They say that familiarity is comforting, but the recognizability of this weekend’s news reports was anything but. Why? Because, once again, it was about a mass shooting. This past Sunday morning in the small, close-knit town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, a gunman opened fire. Of the unsuspecting parishioners, 26 were killed. Their ages ranged from 18 months old to 77-years old, but the far-reaching effects of this senseless crime can’t be summed up by mere numbers.
Now families and friends of the victims are struggling to make sense of the actions of the shooter, 26-year old Devin P. Kelley. Pastor Frank Pomeroy is among those who have been affected by this tragedy, having lost his 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy, whom he described as being “one very beautiful, special child.” Rihanna Ward, a 9-year-old girl, lost her mother, Joann Ward, and her two sisters, Emily Garza and Brooke Ward, that Sunday. The young girl said that her mother “pushed her down when she saw the shooter open fire,” saving her. Grandparents Bryan and Karla Holcombe leave behind children and grandchildren, along with countless people they helped through their volunteer work.
In the wake of this tragedy, the guess work has already been put into motion. Why did Kelley, who was found dead in his vehicle following the shooting, carry this act out? Reports have come out citing that Kelley had been in the Air Force, but after assaulting his wife and their young child in 2012, had been court martialed. According to BuzzFeed News, documents from the court martial showed that Kelley had admitted to “Kicking, choking, and pulling the hair of his wife. He also pleaded guilty to striking his stepson with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.” He received a bad-conduct discharge, and after a year of confinement in military prison, was reduced to the Air Force’s lowest rank.
Authorities have asserted that his attack on the small Baptist church could be linked to a “domestic situation” with his mother-in-law who attended the church. His mother-in-law, Michelle Shields, is the mother of Kelley’s second wife, Danielle Shields, who he married in 2014. His mother-in-law was not present at the church at the time of the attack. However, Lula Woicinski White, her own mother was, and was killed in the attack.
Kelley was no stranger to being the subject of police investigation. In 2013 an officer from the Comal County Sheriff’s Office responded to a reported sexual assault allegedly committed by Kelley. In 2014 another officer responded to texts from Kelley’s second wife, then-girlfriend, Danielle, where she alleged that he’d been abusing her. Again in 2014, according to the Denver Post, witnesses reported that they’d seen Kelley hitting a dog “with a closed fist near the head and neck area,” followed by his grabbing the dog by the neck and dragging it away. Kelley was charged with the crime, but those charges were dropped after he completed a two-year sentence.
The who, what, when, where, and whys of this tragedy seem to all be accounted for. But now, the most important question remains: how do we stop this from happening again? This attack follows closely on the heels of last month’s shooting in Las Vegas, which had resulted in 58 deaths, making it the deadliest shooting in this country’s history. With horrors like this, people are always quick to say, “Never again.” But what will help us to make good on that promise?