A federal judge in San Antonio ruled that the U.S. Air Force must pay around $230 million in damages to the survivors and victims’ families of a 2017 mass shooting at a Texas church that left more than two dozen people, including eight children, dead.
In November 2017, former U.S. Air Force airman Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. About 26 people were killed, including the pastor’s daughter. Kelley later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez ordered the federal government to pay close to $230 million to around 80 claimants. The judge had previously found that the Air Force was “60 percent liable” for the shooting because it failed to submit Kelley’s past record of assault while he was still in the Air Force.
According to the Associated Press, the Justice Department proposed $31.8 million while lawyers for the survivors and families of the victims requested $418 million.
“These families are the heroes here. While no amount can bring back the many lives lost or destroyed at the hands of the government’s negligence, their bravery in obtaining this verdict will make this country safer by helping ensure that this type of governmental failure does not happen in our country again,” Jamal Alsaffar, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in response to Monday’s ruling.
In 2012, Kelley was convicted of assaulting his then-wife and stepson, which landed him in a mental health facility in New Mexico. Later, Kelley briefly escaped the facility and ran into trouble again when he brought guns onto a military base and threatened his superiors.
According to The Christian Post, Kelley’s motivation for the church shooting was reportedly to kill his ex-wife’s family, who attended the church regularly. He also had a history of anti-religious posts on social media.
In May 2019, First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs held its first service at its new facility following a year of construction. Last August, church members voted to demolish the old church building where the shooting occurred, partly because the building was deemed structurally unsafe.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.