Sutherland Springs church shooter escaped mental health facility months after attack on wife, child

Ex-facility official says Kelley made death threats and tried to buy weapons

By Mario Diaz , Cathy Tatom , Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer

HOUSTON - Channel 2 Investigates obtained law enforcement documents revealing Devin Kelley escaped from a behavioral center in New Mexico a little more than five years before Sunday’s deadly rampage in Sutherland Springs. 

The incident report, filed by the El Paso Police Department, states Kelley was picked up at a bus terminal in downtown El Paso before midnight on the evening of June 7, 2012. The report states two officers were dispatched to the terminal to look into a missing-person report. 

READ: Incident report on Devin Kelley

When they arrived, the two officers learned Kelley had escaped from Peak Behavioral Health Services, a mental health facility in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, that has a dedicated unit for service members and veterans.

Xavier Alvarez, who was the director of military affairs for Peak Behavioral Health at the time, told the officers on scene that Kelley, who was 21 years old at the time, had “suffered from mental disorders and had plans to run to from Peak Behavioral Health Services” by purchasing a bus ticket out of state.

NBC News spoke with Alvarez, who according to the police report, said he informed officers that Kelley “was a danger to himself and others as he had already been caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force base,” located approximately 100 miles from the bus terminal. The report further states that Kelley “was attempting to carry out death threats” he had made on his military superiors.

Alvarez told NBC News Kelley was ordered to Peak Behavioral Health Services by the military.

On the day of the escape, Alvarez told NBC News he was home when he received a call at 1 or 2 in the morning that Kelley had absconded.

"He jumped a fence," he said.

The facility is in a desolate area. Alvarez jumped in his truck and began driving through the desert while other Peak staffers were talking to patients "to get any clues to what transpired."

"It turned out that several times he had mentioned he was practicing for a 12-mile run. So I asked Siri, 'What is the distance to the Greyhound station' and lo and behold, it was 12 miles," Alvarez told NBC News.

Alvarez called Sunland Park and El Paso police and El Paso police created a perimeter around the Greyhound station.

Alvarez sat there in the dark, watching for Kelley's arrival. He saw a taxicab pull up and he crept over to it; when it pulled away, he and Kelley were "eye to eye."

"Because he made a reaction as if he was going to run, I quickly restrained him. He put up no fight. He laid on the ground and police were there in seconds," Alvarez said.

He noted Kelley was wet.

"He thought he was going to be tracked and he went through the river to cover these tracks."

"He was very quiet, but he did mention that given the opportunity he would try to go for the [officers'] guns," Alvarez said.

When he went back to the facility, Alvarez told NBC News Kelley was very docile. He was there only a couple of weeks before the military picked him up for his court-martial.

Alvarez confirmed that during his time at Peak, "he [Kelley] had verbalized that he wanted to get some kind of retribution to his chain of command."

He said other patients also reported that Kelley seemed to be up to something on the computers they were allowed to use to pay bills, etc. The military examined the computers and it turned out "he was ordering weapons and tactical gear to a PO Box in San Antonio," Alvarez told NBC News.

He said he could not talk about Kelley's diagnosis but added, "I had a very strong relationship with all the service members but this kid -- he was hollow. I could never reach him."

He said that after Kelley was identified as the suspect, one of his former colleagues contacted him. The message? "We stopped the first one."

El Paso police officers spoke with Kelley after finding him at the terminal. The report states he did not make threatening comments.  

Kelley was released to police officers from Sunland Park Police Department in New Mexico, located just across the state line. 

The report states there was an entry submitted to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database.

READ: Military Discharges Explained

The El Paso incident took place months after Air Force documents state Kelley had attacked his wife by striking and kicking her and pulling her hair. Kelley, according to the documents, also pointed a loaded firearm at her.

Kelley was also charged with unlawfully striking his child on various occasions between April 27, 2011, and June 16, 2011. Records indicate Kelley plead “G” (guilty) to assault on a child and the assault on his wife. Records show he pleaded “NG” (not guilty) on the others that were “withdrawn and dismissed with prejudice” after Kelley’s arraignment.  

Kelley received a general court martial and was sentenced Nov. 7, 2012. He was handed a bad conduct discharge, 12 months of confinement and a reduction in rank to the grade of E-1.

The sentence came exactly five months to the day after the attempted escape from the behavioral facility in southern New Mexico. 

An Air Force spokesperson told Channel 2 Investigates that they cannot comment on the 2012 report, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. 

Rick Rousseau, a retired Army Colonel and Judge Advocate for 27 years, said he is not surprised that Kelley may have been in a behavioral facility in the midst of his legal battles.

“It would be a normal course of negotiation that he had been in behavioral health in advance of going to court," he said.

Rousseau also added that if the move was a preventative measure by Kelley and his team that it probably would have been revealed.

“At a minimum the defense attorney may have told the prosecutor," Rousseau said.

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