The gunman who opened fire in a small Texas church, killing 26 people during worship services, sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law before the attack and had been confronted about domestic violence at least twice in the last five years, authorities said Monday.
The deadliest mass shooting in state history claimed multiple members of some families, with the dead ranging from 18 months to 77 years old, and tore gaping holes in a town with a population of just 400 people.
The massacre appeared to stem from a domestic situation and was not religiously motivated, Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin said.
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Based on evidence at the scene, investigators believe Devin Patrick Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was chased by armed bystanders and crashed his car.
The 26-year-old shooter also used his cellphone to tell his father that he had been shot and did not think he would survive, authorities said.
The investigation showed that Kelley had displayed a pattern of violence spanning years.
In 2014, sheriff’s deputies went to his home to investigate a domestic violence complaint involving him and his then-girlfriend. People in the house said there was no problem, and no arrests were made. Kelley married the girlfriend two months later.
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That same year, Kelley was discharged from the Air Force for assaulting his wife and child and had served 12 months’ confinement after a 2012 court-martial.
He had also been charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty in 2014 in Colorado and had been the focus of a protective order issued in that state in 2015.
The gunman’s family relationships at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs were uncertain. The sheriff said the shooter’s former in-laws sometimes attended services at the church but were not there on Sunday. Martin said the text messages were sent to the gunman’s mother-in-law, who attended the church. It was unclear if they were referring to the same people.
Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before the attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon.
Kelley, who had a license to serve as an unarmed private security guard, did not have a license to carry a concealed handgun. Martin said.
Three guns were recovered. A Ruger AR-556 rifle was found at the church, and two handguns were recovered from the suspect’s vehicle, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, and authorities say they are reviewing video footage recorded inside the church.
About 20 other people were wounded, 10 of whom were still hospitalized Monday in critical condition.
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