Children Of Sutherland Springs Church Shooting Victims Sue US Government

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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Survivors of the 2017 Texas church massacre filed a claim against the U.S. government over the military’s failure to report gunman Devin Kelley’s criminal history.

The survivors who filed the claim are the six children of Dennis and Sara Johnson, who Kelley murdered in the 2017 mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, according to The Washington Post. The Johnson’s surviving children allege the U.S. Air Force’s failure to report Kelley’s history of crime and mental instability directly contributed to the mass shooting since, had Kelley been reported, he would not have been able to purchase firearms. They filed the claim against the Air Force and the Department of Defense.

The Air Force court-martialed and discharged Kelley in 2014 for physically assaulting his wife and son. He spent a year in military prison for the crimes. Kelley’s crimes qualify as a felony and should therefore have been reported and entered into the FBI database, said Attorney Rob Ammons, who began representing some of the survivors in a wrongful death claim against the federal government in 2017.


“What’s more, the acts Kelley pleaded guilty to—breaking his baby stepson’s skull and hitting and kicking his then-wife—were punishable by imprisonment of more than a year. That qualifies them as felonies, which must be entered into the database,” Ammons said, according to Bloomberg.

Ammons also alleged the Air Force’s failure to report Kelley’s criminal history to the FBI comes as no surprise, since both the Department of Defense and the Air Force knew “as far back as 1997 … that the U.S. Air Force (as well as other branches of the U.S. military) routinely failed to report such required criminal arrest and conviction information.”

Kelley also escaped from Peak Behavioral Health Services, a mental health facility, in 2012 while serving in the Air Force. He was in treatment after assaulting his wife and child. The individual who reported Kelley missing to the authorities claimed Kelley escaped to carry out death threats he made against superiors.

His treatment and escape from the mental health hospital also disqualified him from purchasing a gun, but were never reported and therefore never showed up on the FBI background check required to purchase a gun.

The Department of Defense is required by Pentagon policy to report the criminal history and submit the fingerprints of service members with crimes like Kelley’s, particularly assault, to the FBI. They never did.

The Johnson’s six children filed their claim against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Jamal Alsaffar, their attorney, told WaPo that the act requires them to submit an administrative claim detailing their legal argument before they can file a lawsuit. The complainants filed the claim on March 2 and will wait up to six months for the federal government to deny or settle the claim.

If the claim is not settled within six months, the complainants will file a lawsuit in federal court.

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