National News

Texas church shooter's family is grieving, father says

Posted November 8, 2017 11:40 p.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2017 12:47 p.m. EST

— The family of Texas church shooter Devin Kelley is mourning, his father says, as a list of potential warning signs about the perpetrator of Sunday's massacre grows.

"We we are grieving. Our family is grieving," Michael Kelley told ABC News on Wednesday at his home in New Braunfels, about 35 miles north of Sutherland Springs, where police say his son stormed the First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, killing 25 people and an unborn child.

This was Michael Kelley's first public statement since the massacre. Police say his son -- after being shot by a local resident as he left the church, and then fleeing in a car -- had called his father to say he didn't think he was going to make it. Devin Kelley then shot himself and was found dead in that car, police say.

Michael Kelley said the family had nothing else to say for the moment.

"I don't want our lives, our grandchildren's lives, destroyed by this media circus," he said.

Fellow airman: Gunman claimed he bought animals for target practice

Meanwhile, the number of potential red flags in Devin Kelley's past continues to rise.

Kelley once claimed that he bought animals off Craigslist with the purpose of killing them, and praised the gunman who killed nine people at a South Carolina church two years ago, a former Air Force colleague told CNN.

Jessika Edwards, who says she worked with Kelley at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 to 2012, said Kelley told her -- after they were both out of the service -- that he was "using the dogs as target practice."

Edwards said the claim was part of a series of Facebook messages that the two exchanged starting in 2014, after both had left the Air Force. She said he initially had reached out to her on Facebook, asking her to be a job reference.

Though Edwards didn't know whether Kelley was telling the truth about the animals, she said the claim was enough for her to stop communicating with him. She said she wrote the experience off as Kelley "talking weird like he always did."

"In a sane person's mind, when people say something like that, you don't think it's something they're going to do," she said.

She said their post-Air Force conversations on Facebook made her increasingly uncomfortable. She said Kelley once praised Dylann Roof, the man who entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people during a bible study in 2015.

"He would say, 'Isn't it cool? Did you watch the news?'" Edwards said. "He would say he wished he had the nerve to do it, but all he would be able to do is kill animals."

She said she deleted the messages; it wasn't immediately clear when exactly Kelley is alleged to have made the animals claim. She said she also told the FBI about the messages, hoping they could be recovered.

Edwards says she supervised Kelley as a staff sergeant in the Air Force. She said he displayed a fascination with mass murders while he was enlisted.

"He would make jokes about wanting to kill somebody," Edwards recalled. "And we would say, 'Wait, that's not funny.'"

The obsession was so pronounced, Edwards said, that when Kelley was disciplined for poor performance she told her bosses to "back off or he would shoot the place up."'

Troubled past

Kelley had a troubled past and was prone to domestic violence and animal cruelty, according to public records and those who knew him.

As an airman in New Mexico, he was convicted in military court in 2012 of assaulting his then-wife and stepson.

While he was awaiting that military trial, he escaped from a New Mexico mental health facility where he had been confined. Police officers who were called to find him were warned that he had sneaked firearms onto the the base and threatened his commanders, police documents show.

The Air Force acknowledged it did not appropriately relay Kelley's court martial conviction for domestic assault to civilian law enforcement, as required, preventing the conviction from showing up in a federal database that licensed gun dealers must check before someone can buy a firearm.

After his assault conviction and a "bad conduct" discharge, Kelley moved to an RV park in Colorado, where he was accused in 2014 of punching a dog. He initially pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was forced to surrender the husky, but the case was dismissed after he paid fines, court documents show.

He moved to New Braunfels, and posted on social media about his rifle and his affinity for mass shootings. A neighbor of his says that in the week before the shooting, he heard gunshots coming from Kelley's property every morning.

Kelley had an ongoing dispute with his in-laws from his current marriage, who attended the Sutherland Springs church, police say. Kelley's grandmother-in-law was among those killed. And police say Kelley had a history of texting threats to his mother-in-law, who was not inside the church during Sunday's shooting.

'Faith is stronger than evil,' Pence says

Vice President Mike Pence met with the victims' families on Wednesday, offering condolences and a message of hope.

"Faith is stronger than evil. No attack, no act of violence will ever break our spirit or diminish the faith of the American people," he said.

The vice president said he and his wife, Karen, were humbled to "be with the precious families of the fallen and injured" from First Baptist.

"The faith in this community has inspired the nation. And not just the faith and courage of those we lost, but those who survived," he added.

The grief in the small town resonated 35 miles away in New Braunfels, where worshipers had mourned 13 senior citizens who died when a church bus crashed in March.

"The community is going to see the scars of this event (Sunday's shooting) for years to come," the Rev. Brad McLean, pastor of the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, told CNN affiliate KXAN.

"There's still a lot for them to deal with, but I know that the Lord can help that community heal," he added.

Church services will continue

Despite losing half its congregation in the shooting, which likely damaged the church beyond repair, First Baptist Church will host a service this Sunday at a community center next door.

Its members, often clad in T-shirts and jeans, have long been a stalwart of the community -- helping feed the needy and clean up neighbors' property after storms.

"They don't have a lot of money, but they are always willing to give," said Mike Clements, who pastors a nearby church.

Now, ministers from neighboring communities are teaming up to help organize First Baptist's upcoming service.

'A guy that just seemed miserable'

Days before Devin Kelley carried out the largest mass shooting in Texas history, he was working as a security guard at Summit Vacation and RV Resort in New Braunfels. One family who encountered him recalled very negative experiences.

Chuck Jackson said Kelley got short with him after he asked whether his two young children could use the swimming pool.

"He was not normal. He was very weird," Jackson told CNN affiliate KSAT. Jackson said Kelley appeared to be "a guy that just seemed miserable in life."

"He seemed angry. He seemed annoyed by us, and he seemed like he wanted to exert some authority," Jackson's sister Elizabeth Nitz told KSAT.

Jackson and Nitz said their relatives at the resort all commented how creepy Kelley seemed.