Texas shooting suspect's mother-in-law received threatening texts from gunman

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The Wilson County sheriff said that the gunman in a Texas church shooting died from a self-inflicted wound. (WLS)

A gunman dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a small South Texas church, killing 26 people in an attack that claimed tight-knit neighbors and multiple family members ranging in age from 18 months old to 77 years old.

At a press conference Monday morning, Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety said the shooting was tied to a domestic situation inside the family of the shooter, identified by authorities as Devin Patrick Kelley. Martin said Kelly's in-laws attended the church but weren't at the church at the time of the shooting. He said that Kelly's mother-in-law had received threatening texts from him.

Authorities say that evidence at the scene leads them to believe that Devin Patrick Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he crashed his car. He had been chased by armed bystanders.



They said Kelley also used his cellphone to tell his father that he had been shot and didn't think he would survive.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said the gunman's wife and child were safe. He said that the shooter had likely died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. AKelley also used his cellphone to tell his father that he had been shot and didn't think he would survive.

Once the shooting started Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a town of about 400 people, there was likely "no way" for congregants to escape, said Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. Officials said about 20 others were wounded.

"He just walked down the center aisle, turned around and my understanding was shooting on his way back out," said Tackitt, who said the gunman also carried a handgun but that he didn't know if it was fired. Tackitt described the scene as "terrible."

"It's unbelievable to see children, men and women, laying there. Defenseless people," he said.

Tackitt said 12-14 of the victims were children. Authorities said Monday an 18-month-old was among those killed.

Texas officials the 26-year-old Kelley lived in New Braunfels, which is about 35 miles north of the Sutherland Springs church. Sutherland Springs.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Kelley didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person wasn't 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. Authorities said they have views video from inside the church of the shooting.

Kelley received a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force for assaulting his spouse and child, and was sentenced to 12 months' confinement after a 2012 court-martial. Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his 2014 discharge, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

That criminal history should have prevented him from passing the background check required to purchase the gun. The question remains is there an exception that allowed him to make that purchase. Kelley did not have a license to carry a firearm.

At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the church, about 30 miles (48.28 kilometers) southeast of San Antonio, around 11:20 a.m.

The gunman crossed the street and started firing the rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled.

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.

Federal agents, including ATF investigators and the FBI's evidence collection team, swarmed the small rural community of just hundreds of residents.

Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him.

Martin said 23 of the dead were found in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

The man who confronted Kelley had help from another local resident, Johnnie Langendorff, who told KSAT TV that he was driving past the church as the shooting happened. He didn't identify the armed resident but said the man exchanged gunfire with the gunman, then asked to get in Langendorff's truck and the pair followed as the gunman drove away.

Langendorff said the gunman eventually lost control of his vehicle and crashed. He said the other man walked up to the vehicle with his gun drawn and the suspect did not move. He stayed there for at least five minutes, until police arrived.

"I was strictly just acting on what's the right thing to do," Langendorff said.

President Donald Trump, who was in Japan, called the shooting an "act of evil," later calling the gunman "a very deranged individual."

Sunday evening, two sheriff's vans were parked outside the gate of a cattle fence surrounding the address listed for Kelley on the rural, western outskirts of New Braunfels, north of San Antonio.

Ryan Albers, 16, who lives across the road, said he heard intensifying gunfire coming from that direction in recent days.

"It was definitely not just a shotgun or someone hunting," Albers said. "It was someone using automatic weapon fire."

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In a video of its Oct. 8 service, a congregant who spoke and read Scripture pointed to the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting a week earlier as evidence of the "wicked nature" of man. That shooting left 58 dead and more than 500 injured.

Gov. Greg Abbott called Sunday's attack the worst mass shooting in Texas history. It came on the eighth anniversary of a shooting at the Texas' Fort Hood, where 13 people were killed and 31 others wounded by a former U.S. Army major.

The previous deadliest mass shooting in Texas had been a 1991 attack in Killeen, when a mentally disturbed man crashed his pickup truck through a restaurant window at lunchtime and started shooting people, killing 23 and injuring more than 20 others.

The University of Texas was the site of one of the most infamous mass shootings in modern American history, when U.S. Marine sniper Charles Whitman climbed the Austin campus' clock tower in 1966 and began firing on stunned people below, killing 13 and wounding nearly three dozen others. He had killed his wife and mother before heading to the tower, one victim died a week later and medical examiners eventually attributed a 17th death to Whitman in 2001.

FAMILY MEMBERS ID VICTIMS OF TEXAS CHURCH SHOOTING

A mother's pride had lit up Crystal Holcombe's Facebook page. Daughters Emily and Megan had finished third and first in their respective categories in a 4-H bakeoff and displayed their handiwork in posted photos.

But on Sunday afternoon, the page went grim.

"Keep the Holcombe family in your prayers," a friend posted.

Crystal Holcombe, who was eight months pregnant, was among the 26 people killed by a lone gunman wielding an assault rifle, most inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, said her cousin, Nick Uhlig.

Uhlig told The Associated Press that Holcombe's in-laws were killed, and he told the Houston Chronicle that three of Holcombe's children also died.

"She doesn't even drink, smoke or nothing," he told the newspaper. "She just takes care of kids; she raises goats and makes homemade cheese. That kind of thing, you know? They don't go out dancing or anything like that. They're real old-fashioned, down-to-earth."

The father-in-law, Bryan Holcombe, had done prison ministry, Uhlig said. "He would go up to the prison with a ukulele to sing."

The massacred churchgoers ranged in age from 18 month to 77 years old, police said. About 20 others were wounded.

One local man, 68-year-old Earl Good, told the San Antonio Express-News that a good friend had lost eight relatives in the shooting.

It's not clear whether the Holcombes were that family.

Another victim was 14-year-old Annabelle Pomeroy, daughter of the church's pastor, Frank Pomeroy. Both he and his wife were out of town, in different states, on Sunday.

"Heaven truly gained a real beautiful angel this morning along with many more," the girl's uncle, Scott Pomeroy, lamented on his Facebook page, posting a picture of the smiling girl poolside in a bathing suit. All those robbed of life in Sunday's bloodbath, he wrote, "have taken their last breath of dirty air and took their first breath of heavenly air with new bodies with no pain and suffering."

Another of those killed was the 13-year-old goddaughter of Amanda Mosel, she told the Express-News.

Hank Summers, a local who had moved to San Antonio, told the AP via text message that his uncle, David Colbath, survived five gunshots that required extensive surgery and skin grafts to save an arm.

ABC News confirmed that 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez is also among the dead. His daughter Regina told the Associated Press that he attended church every Sunday.

Emily Garza's aunt Mandi Lookingbill told ABC News she was killed in the shooting.

Sutherland Springs is a tiny town where everyone knows each other, said L.G. Moore, who runs the Holiday RV Park, which is mile from the church.

Everyone in town was apt to know someone who was killed, he ventured.

"They say the population is 400 and that's if you count every dog, cat and armadillo. It's more like 200 people," the 75-year-old Moore said by phone.

The tragedy in Texas is making some people worry about their own safety when they go to worship.

But for at least one church in Chicago, they say that's nothing new. The Texas church shooting prompting some to wonder if security is needed in a sacred place that promotes peace.

Father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church said churches need to have a security plan.

"I think what it makes very clear is that there is no place that is safe. There is no place that is off-limits, not churches, not businesses, not workplaces, shopping malls. I mean, there is no safe place," Pfleger said.

Tim Miller is the director of security at a mega church in Florida, one of the largest in the country. He says churches are soft targets.

"Everybody gets it that you need to spiritually protect your people, you need to pray for, but in today's world you need to have a plan to protect them," Miller said. "In times past churches have not felt the need. i think this last month has been a huge wake up for churches across the country."

Last September, Miller hosted a two-day seminar on church security at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, attracting representatives from 35-area churches. He says churches of all sizes need to be prepared.

Click here for more stories on the Texas church shooting.

WLS-TV contributed to this report

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