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 massacre appeared to stem from a domestic situation and was not religiously motivated, Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin said.
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. People in the house said there was no problem, and no arrests were made.
That same year, Kelley was discharged from the Air Force for assaulting his wife and child; he 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 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.
Once the shooting started, there was probably “no way” for congregants to escape, Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said.
The gunman, dressed in black tactical gear, fired an assault rifle as he walked down the center aisle during services. He turned around and continued shooting on his way out of the building, Tackitt said.
The deadliest mass shooting in state history claimed multiple members of some families and tore gaping holes in a town with a population of just 400 people.
“It’s unbelievable to see children, men and women, laying there. Defenseless people,” Tackitt said.
The dead ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years old. About 20 other people were wounded, ten of whom were still hospitalized Monday in critical condition.
Authorities said Kelley lived in New Braunfels, about 35 miles north of the church.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Kelley did not appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the investigation.
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.
As he left, the shooter was confronted by an armed resident who “grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect,” Martin said. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line.
The armed resident who confronted Kelley had help from another man. Johnnie Langendorff, 27, from Seguin, Texas, told The Associated Press on Monday that he was driving past the church to pick up a friend in Sutherland Springs as the shooting happened. It was then that the barefoot, armed resident who’d been exchanging gunfire with Kelley jumped in Langendorff’s truck, saying, “He just shot up the church, we need to go get him,” recalled Langendorff. “And I said ‘Let’s go.’ ”
Langendorrf said he and the unidentified armed resident chased Kelley’s vehicle at speeds approaching 90 mph, before Kelley crashed.
Langendorff said the armed resident approached Kelley’s vehicle with his gun drawn, but Kelley didn’t move. He stayed there for at least five minutes, until police arrived, Langendorff told KSAT-TV.
Police found Kelley dead.
“I was strictly just acting on what’s the right thing to do,” Langendorff said.
Among those killed was the church pastor’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message.
“We lost our 14-year-old daughter today and many friends,” she wrote. “Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation.”
Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, who was not at Sunday’s service, told the AP that his cousin, who was eight months expectant, and her in-laws, were among those killed. He later told the Houston Chronicle that three of his cousin’s children also were slain.
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 online, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.