Air Force ordered to pay $230M to Texas church shooting survivors and families

A woman prays in the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs as the church was opened to the public as a memorial to those killed in Texas, November 12, 2017. | (Photo: Reuters)

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government must pay around $230 million to the survivors of the 2017 deadly mass shooting at a Texas church and family members of the victims.

U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled Monday that the government owed around 80 claimants a little over $230 million after having previously concluded that the Air Force was partially responsible for the shooting by failing to properly act on Kelley’s history of mental health issues.

On Nov. 5, 2017, a former U.S. Air Force airman Devin Patrick Kelley entered First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and killed 26 people, including the pastor’s daughter.

“The losses and pain these families have experienced is immeasurable,” concluded Rodriguez, as quoted by Reuters.

Last July, Rodriguez ruled that he considered the Air Force 60% responsible for the shooting, concluding that the military branch failed to submit Kelley’s domestic violence charges in a federal database, an oversight that allowed him to purchase firearms that he would have been otherwise prohibited from owning.

“Had the Government done its job and properly reported Kelley’s information into the background check system — it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting,” ruled Rodriguez. “For these reasons, the Government bears significant responsibility for the Plaintiffs’ harm.”

In addition to the 26 people killed at the church, Kelley also wounded around 20 others before he was shot by neighbor and NRA instructor Stephen Willeford.

Kelley fled the church, being pursued by Willieford in his vehicle, with Kelley eventually crashing his car into a ditch. 

Kelley died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Although Kelley had a history of anti-religious posts on social media, authorities suggest that his main motive was to kill his ex-wife’s family, who regularly attended the church.

The Associated Press reports that the Air Force offered a proposed payment of $31.8 million while attorneys for the survivors and family members asked for $418 million. 

“These families are the heroes here,” the lead attorney for the plaintiffs said in a statement. “While no amount can bring back the many lives lost or destroyed at the hands of the government’s negligence, their bravery in obtaining this verdict will make this country safer by helping ensure that this type of governmental failure does not happen in our country again.”

In 2018, the congregation began constructing a new worship space and held their first worship services in the new building on May 19, 2019. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other elected officials were present.

“This is a tangible sign as people drive through Sutherland Springs in the future they will know that this is a place where goodness triumphed over evil,” Abbott told those gathered.

Last August, the Sutherland Springs congregation voted to demolish the building where the shooting occurred, in part because the old church was considered structurally unsafe.

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