Air Force ordered to pay $230 million to Sutherland Springs shooting survivors and families of slain victims

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where 26 churchgoers were killed in a 2017 mass shooting. (Shelby Knowles For The Texas Tribune, Shelby Knowles For The Texas Tribune)

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The U.S. Air Force was ordered to pay more than $230 million to survivors and families of those killed in the 2017 mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, a federal judge ruled Monday evening.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez had previously found that the military branch was mostly at fault for the mass shooting because it did not report the gunman’s previous assault conviction to the FBI, which could have prevented him from purchasing the semiautomatic rifle he used to kill 26 people.

In the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history, Devin Patrick Kelley fired more than 450 rounds at attendees during the church’s Nov. 5, 2017, Sunday service, injuring 22 and killing 26. He died later that day from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after two men chased him with firearms of their own as he fled the scene.

Kelley served in the Air Force for five years at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico before he was dismissed with a bad conduct discharge in 2014. Two years before he was discharged, a court found him guilty of assaulting his wife and stepson, which the Air Force never reported to the FBI.

Last July, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government was “60% liable” for the church mass shooting because the Air Force didn’t report Kelley’s assault conviction. This should have logged his history of violence into the National Criminal Information Center database, which would have prevented him from buying the rifle from Academy Sports and Outdoors.

In November, the U.S. Department of Defense released a report that found the Air Force failed six times to report information that may have prevented Kelley from purchasing a firearm, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. Department of Justice asked for $31.8 million to be distributed to the survivors and victims’ families during court arguments at the end of November, while the lawyers for those affected asked for $418 million, according to the Associated Press.

The 80 claimants in the lawsuit include relatives of those killed in the shooting and 21 survivors.

Correction, Feb. 9, 2022: A previous version of this article provided incorrect details about the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, 2017. Devin Patrick Kelley fired 450 rounds, he did not open fire on 450 people. The gunman used a semi-automatic rifle, not an assault rifle. Two men who pursued the gunman chased him as he fled the scene; they did not chase him from the church.