Sutherland Springs Baptist Church | Southern Baptist Convention

DALLAS – The U.S. Air Force's negligence is to blame for the Sutherland Springs church shooting deaths last month of nine relatives of Claryce and Joe Holcombe, the family claims.

The Holcombes have filed administrative claims against the Air Force alleging it failed to report Devin P. Kelley’s prior domestic assault court-martial to the federal database. The claims were filed Nov. 25.

Kelley shot and killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, including Claryce and Joe Holcombe’s son Bryan Holcombe.

The Air Force has admitted that its failure to report that court-martial meant that Kelley was able to buy the weapons used in the massacre, according to Houston Public Media.

The claim filed with the Air Force notes that “Claimant Claryce Holcombe’s son was Bryan Holcombe, a member of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Bryan Holcombe was shot in the back while walking to the church pulpit to lead the congregation in worship. He died on the floor of the church. Claryce Holcombe has suffered grievous mental anguish from the death of her son and the loss of his society, companionship, and affection.” The same claim was filed by Joe Holcombe, also. 

The attachment to the claim notes that “...the failures of the U.S. Air Force and others allowed the shooter to purchase, own, and/or possess the semiautomatic rifle, ammunition and body armor he used, and it is these failures that were a proximate cause, in whole or in part, of the injuries and death of the decedent.” 

It notes that Kelley, who was in the Air Force from 2009 until 2014 and while stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, was arrested for assault after fracturing the skull of his infant stepson and threatening his spouse. He spent a year in jail after being court-martialed in 2012. In June 2012, he escaped from a mental health facility and it was noted in his file that he was a “danger to himself and others.” 

The felonies Kelley was convicted of should have been entered into the federal database, preventing him from purchasing firearms, according to a story dated Nov. 28 by KENS 5, San Antonio.

The Holcombe’s attorney Rob Ammons did not respond to a request for comment. The Air Force does not comment on ongoing investigations.

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