Family that lost 8 in Sutherland Springs shooting files claim against Air Force

HOUSTON – The parents of a son who was among the 26 people killed in a massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs earlier this month have filed two claims against the military.

According to documents obtained by Channel 2 Investigates on Tuesday, Joe and Claryce Holcombe accuse the U.S. Department of Defense, including the Air Force, of failing to report the criminal history of the gunman that killed people inside the small church on Nov. 5.

The documents read, in part:

“These entities negligently, recklessly, carelessly and/or egregiously failed to report pertinent criminal arrest, conviction and military discharge information of the shooter into a federal database, as was required, which would have prevented and barred the shooter from purchasing, owning and/or possessing the firearms, ammunition and body armor that he used in the shooting.”

DOCUMENTS: Claims filed by Holcombe family

The claims seek unspecified monetary damages.

The Holcombes are the parents of Bryan Holcombe, who was serving as the visiting pastor the day of the shooting. He was among eight members of the family, spanning three generations, who died.

In the shooting’s aftermath, Channel 2 Investigates uncovered a 1997 report from the Inspector General of the Department of Defense that was critical of the military.

On the second page of the report, the IG stated the military is not, “Consistently submitting criminal history data to the FBI criminal history files.”  The Holocombre's attorney Rob Ammon says rhe objective is simple, "What we hope to do is right this system which appears to be wrong."

Tuesday’s claim mentions that specific report and lays out a number of instances where shooter Devin Kelley could have been blocked from purchasing a gun if his 2012 military conviction for domestic abuse had been properly reported to a federal database.

Ammon’s made it clear that he and the family are putting the Air Force on notice and demanding they way they do business when it comes to the reporting of military convictions, “It's time to get these folks that have these convictions, these serviceman that have committed violent felonies so that the Academy's and the folks that sell guns can do what they need to do and that is prohibit the sales of the guns to those folks that have these convictions."

While the Air Force would not comment on the Holcombe’s claim, they did confirm to Channel 2 Investigates that they have already made changes in the aftermath of the November 5th shooting. 

The Air Force laying out the variety of new initiatives in a lengthy statement attributed to Ann Stefanek, their Chief of Media Operations, “The Air Force's review of its reporting processes to civilian law enforcement in the Devin P. Kelley case has prompted immediate actions to correct reporting deficiencies and prevent future occurrences. The Air Force's review and corrective actions will continue over the next several months as the broader Department of Defense review proceeds.

"Preliminary findings by the Air Force Inspector General confirmed the OSI and Security Forces personnel then assigned at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, did not report required information to civilian law enforcement in the Kelley case.

The review also found the error in the Kelley case was not an isolated incident and similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations. Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking.

"The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has already implemented corrective measures to ensure compliance with reporting requirements to civilian law enforcement. In addition, Air Force Security Forces have also implemented several corrective measures and remaining actions will be completed in the next few weeks.

"Among the new procedures is a leadership requirement at the field, regional and headquarters levels to verify that information from applicable cases is registered with the FBI's National Crime Information Center's Interstate Identification Index. Additionally, supporting software, checklist and training changes were made to support the new procedures.

"Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein directed OSI and Security Forces to review all Air Force records with reportable offenses across the Air Force back to 2002. In order to complete the review and implement corrective measures, two task forces comprised of 30 members from each organization are aggressively working to ensure 100 percent compliance.

"Air Force officials are correcting all identified deficiencies as they are discovered and reporting them to civilian law enforcement. The full review will be completed over the next several months.

"The Air Force will continue to take steps to identify and remedy shortfalls as the review continues. The Air Force IG is closely monitoring all corrective actions and the ongoing review of records to assess progress and report to Air Force leadership.”


About the Authors:

Aaron Barker has been a senior digital editor at KPRC 2 since 2016. As a meteorologist, he specializes in stories about the weather. He has covered Hurricane Harvey, the Astros first World Series win, the Santa Fe High School shooting, the ITC fire and Tropical Storm Imelda.