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Texas Residents Sue the US Air Force for Negligence
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Texas Residents Sue the US Air Force for Negligence

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TEXAS — September 18, 2018

Two additional families who lost loved ones in the Sutherland Springs massacre last year are suing the U.S. Air Force for negligence, doubling the number of legal challenges the government is facing over the mass shooting.

The incident occurred on November 5 when a man shot parishioners in a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and injuring 20 others. The age of the dead and wounded ranged from five to 72 years. On that day, the Church had its largest crowd of visitors assembled for Sunday service.

"We all thought it couldn't happen in a small town, but today we found out it wasn't," Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt said late Sunday night that day.

Throughout the US, as well as on military ships, bases, and Embassy facilities, authorities lowered flags in mourning for the dead.

The shooter was wearing a black suit and a bulletproof vest. According to various sources, the killer used the American Ruger SR-556 self-loading carbine or the Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle.

A year has passed since then. Families of the dead and wounded still remember that day with horror and condemn the authorities for being unable to protect them.

The Johnson and McNulty families both filed lawsuits this week. The Air Force admitted it failed to report veteran Devin P. Kelley’s past crimes to the federal database, the suits state, which allowed him to pass a background check and obtain the firearms he used in the shooting.

The two families filed negligence claims earlier this year and were required to give the government six months to respond. Attorney Jamal Alsaffar said his clients got “nothing more than a cursory response” in that time, so they decided to sue once the deadline hit.

“The government has done nothing, literally nothing, to resolve the claims or help the families,” Alsaffar said on Thursday. “That’s why we had to fill the lawsuits because there was no effort made.”

On November 5, Kelley shot and killed 26 parishioners -- including a pregnant woman -- who were attending Sunday services at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Among the victims were Tara McNulty, 33, a mother of two, and Sara, 68, and Dennis Johnson, Sr., 77.

The Church pastor where the shooting occurred, Frank Pomeroy, said that the attack killed his 14-year-old daughter Annabelle. Frank and his wife were out of town at the time.

Parishioner Sandy Ward recounted the day that four of her grandchildren and her daughter-in-law were in the Church at the time of the shooting. The youngest child, a 5-year-old boy, was in intensive care for almost six months, and her 7-year-old granddaughter died.

In General, the residents said that the shooting was an unexpected tragedy for everyone.

"This is a rural conservative community, mainly farmers, ranchers and people who work in the oil and gas fields live here. This area is very quiet and very safe," said a local resident Vicente Gonzalez.

Two other families sued the federal government earlier this year. Margarette Vidal, who survived after being shot in the knee and next to her spine, and Joe and Claryce Holcombe, who lost nine family members in the massacre. Their lawsuits have been consolidated, a step Alsaffar expects all of the families to eventually take.

Due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, it’s usually almost impossible to sue the federal government. But under the Federal Tort Claims Act, people can seek damages in limited cases if they can prove direct negligence on the part of the government.

Kelley, an Air Force veteran, had a history of violence and mental illness. He received a bad-conduct discharge in 2014 after he was convicted of beating his first wife and assaulting his stepson, and had escaped two years earlier from a mental facility where he was admitted after threatening to kill his superior officers. Normally, these incidents would have landed Kelley on the FBI’s criminal database and kept him from legally owning guns.

But the Air Force failed to report his crimes, allowing Kelley to pass two background checks before he purchased the Ruger AR-556 he used in the shooting.

In their lawsuit filed Wednesday, Dennis and Sara Johnson’s children claim the government’s admitted failures entitles them to damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, mental health care expenses, past and future lost income and earning capacity and funeral costs.

There is no dollar figure named in the lawsuit.

Several other victims of the shooting are also suing Academy Sports + Outdoors, where the shooter purchased his firearm. Kelley bought a Ruger and at least one high-capacity magazine there in violation of Colorado law, where he was a legal resident at the time, the lawsuit alleges.

After the shooting, the shooter got into the car and drove away. According to one data, he committed suicide, on others – he was killed by the police officers who arrived at the scene.

Witnesses said that after the killer shot himself, he tried to escape by car, but was shot by a traffic police officer.

Indirectly, this version was confirmed by the words of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who thanked the guards for the prompt intervention in the situation.

Federal officials have since forgotten the case, and the killer's motive remains unclear. But the authorities in all their official statements claimed that these actions had nothing to do with terrorism.

"He went inside the Church, opened fire on people and then disappeared," said that day Congressman of the Legislative Assembly of the state Henry Kellar, refusing to report any details about the investigation. "I'm sure of one thing: it was not a terrorist act."

Earlier, a US Air Force representative made an official statement apologizing to the residents that the military could not do anything that day. Several dozen service members found guilty of violent offenses passed the federal gun background check database, with representatives of the service telling the New York Times that the reporting failure that allowed disgraced airman Devin Patrick Kelley to purchase the firearms he used to murder 26 parishioners in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church on Nov. 5 'was not an isolated incident.'

In the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting, the Department of Defense determined that Kelley’s 2012 court-martial conviction for beating his wife and infant son should have disqualified him from purchasing firearms, but he was not reported to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database for firearms-related background checks for private dealers and state outlets. The Air Force review found that since 2002, a whopping 60,000 incidents involving airmen that 'potentially' merited inclusion in NICS went unaddressed, according to the New York Times.

"Similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations" besides Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where Kelley was stationed, the Air Force said in a statement. "Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking."

Under federal law, anyone dishonorably discharged from the armed forces is prohibited from possessing or receiving firearms or ammo transported across state lines. The 1996 Lautenberg amendment that extends that prohibition to military personnel with domestic violence convictions.

The causes of that the gap?  "Ambiguous Pentagon guidelines and a lack of interest among the military services in submitting information to an FBI viewed as chronically overburdened with data," according to the AP report, language echoed in the Air Force’s November 28 statement.

Before the events of that monstrous Sunday, the largest execution of parishioners in the Church was considered an incident in Charleston, South Carolina, when in June 2015, where Dylan Roof opened fire on parishioners of the Methodist Church, which has a predominantly African American population. The shooting killed 9 people, including the pastor.

Author: USA Really