Judge: Air Force Mostly at Fault in 2017 Texas Church Attack

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Memorial for the victims of the shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church
In this Nov. 12, 2017 photo, a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church includes 26 white chairs, each painted with a cross and rose and placed in the sanctuary, in Sutherland Springs, Texas (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Air Force is mostly responsible for a former serviceman killing more than two dozen people at a Texas church in 2017 because it failed to submit his criminal history into a database, which should have prevented him from purchasing firearms.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez in San Antonio wrote in a ruling signed Wednesday that the Air Force was “60% responsible" for the deaths and injuries at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. The attack remains the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

Devin Kelley had served nearly five years in the Air Force before being discharged in 2014 for bad conduct, after he was convicted of assaulting a former wife and stepson, cracking the child’s skull. The Air Force has publicly acknowledged that the felony conviction for domestic violence, had it been put into the FBI database, could have prevented Kelley from buying guns from licensed firearms dealers, and also from possessing body armor.

“Its failure proximately caused the deaths and injuries of Plaintiffs at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church,” Rodriguez wrote.

Kelley opened fire during a Sunday service at the church of Sutherland Springs in November 2017. Authorities put the official death toll at 26 because one of the 25 people killed was pregnant. Kelley died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was shot and chased by two men who heard the gunfire at the church.

The lawsuit against the federal government was brought by family members of the victims. Rodriguez ordered a later trial to assess damages owed to the families.

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