I’m tempted to call what NBC describes in this article “red flags” but doubtless there are thousands of miscreants who commit the same crimes and never get around to shooting up a church full of people.
Even so, Devin Kelley makes for a morbidly curious contrast with Stephen Paddock, the man responsible for the last massacre in the U.S. The striking thing about Paddock was how little warning there was in his past that he was capable of such viciousness. To this day, it’s unclear what his motive was. With Kelley, viciousness towards the vulnerable appears to have been par for the course. He cracked his baby son’s head open five years ago; he beat his dog to the point where he was slapped with an animal cruelty charge; he harassed and even assaulted ex-girlfriends who wouldn’t spend time with him.
A bad, violent man. No one knew how bad until yesterday.
A retired Air Force colonel who supervised prosecutors when Kelley was brought before the court-martial said Kelley was convicted of fracturing his baby stepson’s skull and assaulting his first wife, Tessa, in the incident at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico…
“Years after dating me he would try to bribe me to hang out with him,” [Katy] Landry, who met Kelley in church as a teenager, told NBC News in a Facebook message. “He ended up assaulting me. He would stalk me by repeatedly calling me — even prank calling me, saying really weird stuff…
[I]n Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Kelley lived for a short time, he was arrested in 2014 on an animal cruelty charge, according to police records…
“The suspect then started beating on the dog with both fists, punching it in the head and chest,” the police report said, citing a witness. “He could hear the suspect yelling at the dog and while he was striking it, the dog was yelping and whining. The suspect then picked up the dog by the neck into the air and threw it onto the ground and then drug him away to lot 60.”
Another woman who dated Kelley when he was 18 and she was 13(!) also remembers him offering her money to spend time with him and recalls having to change her phone number several times when he wouldn’t stop calling after their break-up. She claims after Kelley was married that he told her she “should move in with him and his wife and that he would take care of me as long as I walked around topless.” The local sheriff claimed earlier today that “threatening” texts sent to his second wife’s mother were a clue about his motive for the shooting, which fits with his habit of intimidating women. Landry told NBC that he was “very sick in the head” although other friends told the Times that that sickness didn’t really start to show until the last few years of his life:
“I had always known there was something off about him. But he wasn’t always a ‘psychopath’ though,” a longtime friend, Courtney Kleiber, posted on Facebook on Sunday. He was, she said, “happy at one point, normal, your average kid. We had a lot of good times together. Over the years we all saw him change into something that he wasn’t. To be completely honest, I’m really not surprised this happened, and I don’t think anyone who knew him is very surprised either.”
Hard to say from that if the change she saw in him had to do with a growing propensity for violence or if she means a change in his belief system. Other friends told the NYT that Kelley was frequently heard talking about “how people who believe in God were stupid and trying to preach his atheism,” which made him unpopular with old high-school classmates. His atheism also triggered speculation that he had targeted the church for ideological reasons. Not so, according to the sheriff. It was something more mundane, Kelley’s seemingly chronic problem of abusing the people (and animals) closest to him.
Among the dead at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs are reportedly between 12 and 14 children. The mystery of how Kelley was able to purchase the guns he used to carry out the murders remains unsolved, although NBC floated a theory this morning:
Pete Williams: The military code doesn't include the term "domestic violence," so the shooter's conviction only showed "assault." https://t.co/6l81hQv1Ba
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) November 6, 2017
A person convicted of domestic violence, even on a misdemeanor charge, can’t lawfully own a gun under federal law. If Kelley’s court-martial was only recorded as “assault,” the background check might not have picked up the fact that it was domestic violence, specifically, that he’d been convicted of. But that doesn’t finish the puzzle: Experts in military law reminded USA Today that Kelley’s “assault” conviction was obtained via a general court-martial, which is tantamount to a felony under civilian law. Felons of any kind can’t lawfully own guns either. So how did Kelley successfully buy his?
Update: Well, mystery solved.
A day after a gunman massacred parishioners in a small Texas church, the Air Force admitted on Monday that it had failed to enter the man’s domestic violence court-martial into a federal database that could have blocked him from buying the rifle he used to kill 26 people.
The conviction of the gunman, Devin P. Kelley, for domestic assault on his wife and infant stepson — he had cracked the child’s skull — should have stopped Mr. Kelley from legally purchasing the military-style rifle and three other guns he bought in the last four years. But that information was never entered by the Air Force into the federal database for background checks on gun purchasers, the service said.
There are bureaucratic screw-ups and then there are bureaucratic catastrophes. The Times also reports that Kelley was once investigated for rape although never charged with a crime. I wonder if there was any woman in his orbit who was unscathed by him.