Texas Shooter Escaped Mental Hospital After Threatening to Kill Military Officers

A 2012 police report also revealed Devin Kelley tried to sneak firearms onto his Air Force base.
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
Lia Kantrowitz
illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
Photo by Texas Department of Public Safety via Getty Images

Five years before he killed 26 people and injured 20 others at a church in rural Texas, Devin Kelley assaulted his first wife and stepson, fracturing the toddler's skull. After charging the former airman with domestic abuse, the Air Force sent him to a psychiatric hospital in New Mexico where he was stationed—a mental health facility he then escaped, according to a 2012 police report unearthed Tuesday.


In the missing persons report, an unnamed individual explained that Kelley "suffered from mental disorders" and "was a danger to himself and others." The person said Kelley, who was in the Air Force at the time, "was attempting to carry out death threats" against "his military chain of command," and "had already been caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force Base."

"It would be a normal course of negotiation that he had been in behavioral health in advance of going to court," Rick Rousseau, a retired Army Colonel and Judge Advocate, told NBC affiliate KPRC.

But Kelley ended up fleeing the hospital in June and managed to get to a bus station in El Paso, Texas, apparently hoping to catch a ride out of the state, KPRC reports. The cops eventually caught up with him after responding to the missing persons report, and he reportedly cooperated with them. Later that November, Kelley pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife and stepson and was sentenced to 12 months in prison. He was eventually discharged from the military on "bad conduct," according to the New York Times.

But his history of mental health issues, domestic assault convictions, and military discharge didn't stop Kelley from legally purchasing an assault rifle that he later used to kill 26 churchgoers on Sunday, before taking his own life. The Air Force said that it had failed to enter Kelley's name in an FBI database that would have made it impossible for him to purchase firearms.

"Initial information indicates that Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database," an Air Force spokeswoman said Monday. "Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction."

President Trump has labeled the killing a "mental health problem at the highest level," but investigators are still looking for Kelley's precise motive. As part of its inquiry, the FBI plans to dig through his cell phone, which it hasn't been able to access, the Washington Post reports. The phone has been sent to a Bureau facility in Quantico, Virginia, where experts are hoping to breach it.

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