Lapse in background check database allowed Texas shooter to buy weapons

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The man who committed the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history was able to buy guns legally from a sporting goods store because a prior domestic violence conviction was never entered into an FBI database used in background checks, officials said.

Devin Kelley, the gunman in Sunday's massacre at a church in rural southeastern Texas, was found guilty by court-martial of assaulting his first wife and a stepson while assigned to a U.S. Air Force logistics readiness unit in 2012, the Pentagon disclosed on Monday.

The Air Force also acknowledged that it had failed to transmit information about Kelley's conviction to the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) system, a U.S. government data bank used by licensed firearms dealers to check prospective gun buyers for criminal backgrounds.

RELATED: What we know about the Texas church shooting suspect

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What we know about Texas church shooting suspect Devin Kelley
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What we know about Texas church shooting suspect Devin Kelley

Devin Patrick Kelley is accused of killing more than two dozen people in a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

(Texas Department of Safety/Handout via REUTERS)

The 26-year-old live in this home in New Braunfels, Texas.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

He was a member of the U.S. Air Force before discharged and court-martialed for reportedly assault his first wife and child.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Officials said Kelley was involved in a domestic dispute with the family of  a woman he married in 2014.

(Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

He worked at Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort.

(Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

Kelley used an AR-556 rifle and wore tactical gear during the attack, according to authorities.

(Photo Illustration by George Frey/Getty Images)

Two ex-girlfriends told NBC News that Kelley stalked them after breakups.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Devin Patrick Kelley attended high school at New Braunfels High School.

(Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

Authorities said Kelley called his father during the chase to say he had been shot and might not survive. He was later found dead in his vehicle. 

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A former schoolmate of Kelley told Reuters that he shared posts on Facebook about atheism and his assault weapon in recent years.

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Freeman Martin put the number of victims killed in the attack at 26, including the unborn child of a pregnant woman who died. The dead otherwise ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years.

Twenty others were wounded, 10 of whom remained in critical condition late on Monday, officials said.

Two handguns were found in Kelley's getaway vehicle, where he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after a failed attempt to flee from the scene of Sunday's shootings, Martin told a news conference on Monday night.

The Air Force opened an inquiry into how it handled the former airman's criminal record, and the U.S. Defense Department has requested a review by its inspector general to ensure that other cases "have been reported correctly," Pentagon officials said.

Firearms experts said the case involving Kelley, 26, who spent a year in military detention before his bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force in 2014, had exposed a previously unnoticed weak link in the system of background checks.

It is illegal under federal law to sell a gun to someone who has been convicted of a crime involving domestic violence against a spouse or child.

A sporting goods retail outlet said Kelley passed background checks when he bought a gun in 2016 and a second firearm this year.

Neither the NCIC nor two related databases contained any information that would have barred Kelley from legally buying any of three weapons police recovered from their investigation of the slayings, said Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in San Antonio.

'TEXAS HERO'

Police said Kelley stormed into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, dressed in black and wearing a human-skull mask, and opened fire on worshippers with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle.

Kelley was shot twice - in the leg and torso - by another man, Stephen Willeford, who lived nearby and confronted Kelley with his own rifle as the gunman emerged from the church.

Kelley managed to flee in a sport utility vehicle as Willeford waved down a passing motorist, Johnnie Langendorff. The two then gave chase in Langendorff's pickup truck until Kelley's vehicle crashed in a ditch.

RELATED: Victims of the Texas church shooting

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Some of the victims of the Texas church shooting
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Some of the victims of the Texas church shooting
Haley Krueger was described as a beautiful and vibrant girl who had dreams of becoming a NICU nurse, according to a GoFundMe set up in her memory. She was 16. 

(Photo via GoFundMe)
Annabelle Pomeroy was the daughter of the pastor of the First Baptist Church. Both of her parents were out of town at the time of shooting. She was 14 years old. 

(Photo via Facebook)

Eight members of the same family were killed in the shooting, including Crystal Holcombe, who was pregnant. Three of her kids and her unborn child were also killed.

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Megan Hill, 9

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Gregory Hill, 13

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Emily Hill, 11

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Dennis Johnson Sr. and his wife Sara had celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary in July and were members of the church for more than a decade, according to a fundraising page created in their memory.

(Photo via GoFundMe)

Bryan Holcombe and his wife Karla Plain Holcombe, were both victims of the mass shooting. Bryan was an associate pastor at the church and was reported'y preparing to lead the congregation in mass when the shooting began.

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Tara Elyse McNulty was remembered as a 'sweet, kind and loving woman, mother and daughter' on a GoFundMe page created in her memory. Her kids were reportedly injured in the shooting, but survived. 

(Photo via GoFundMe)

Lula Woicinski White was the gunman's grandmother-in-law. Her sister told the New York Daily News that 'she loved the people in her church. They were all her best friends.' She was 71.

(Photo via Facebook)

Joann Ward reportedly died while trying to use herself as a shield to protect her four young children.

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Brooke was killed along with her mother, Joann Ward, and her older sister. She was 5 years old.

(Photo via GoFundMe)

Emily Garza, 7

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Shani Corrigan and her husband Robert Corrigan

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Richard Rodriguez attended church every Sunday, according to his daughter. He was 51 years old.

(Social media/Handout via REUTERS)

Therese Sagan Rodriguez was killed along with her husband, Richard. She was 66. 
Robert and Karen Marshall were new to Texas and trying out churches when they were killed in Sutherland Springs… https://t.co/vDn9EeYHJA
Peggy Lynn Warden https://t.co/qkj3Vqg0SO #KSATnews https://t.co/XRLt20hg8M
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Martin later hailed Willeford as "our Texas hero," crediting him with preventing further carnage in Sunday's rampage, which ranks as the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in the state and one of the five most lethal in modern U.S. history.

Authorities also said Kelley had been involved in a domestic dispute of some kind with the parents of his second wife, whom he married in 2014, and had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law before the shooting.

Although his in-laws were known to occasionally attend services at the church Kelley attacked, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said family members were not present on Sunday.

The attack stunned Sutherland Springs, a community of about 400 people. One family, the Holcombes, lost eight members from three generations in the attack, including Bryan Holcombe, an assistant pastor who was leading the service, a relative said.

The first shots came through the windows of the church, according to an account related to CNN by the son of one of the survivors, 73-year-old Farida Brown, who was shot in both legs. The assailant then stalked inside and sprayed the pews with gunfire, walking up and down the aisles targeting people even as they ran for cover or lay on the floor.

Farida Brown was in the last pew, beside a woman who was shot multiple times, her son, David Brown, said.

"She was pretty certain she was next, and her life was about to end. Then somebody with a gun showed up at the front of the church, caught the shooter's attention. He left and that was the end of the ordeal," David Brown told CNN.

Martin said investigators found hundreds of spent shell casings inside the church after the shooting, as well as 15 empty 30-round ammunition magazines.

(Additional reporting by Jane Ross in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

RELATED: Photos from the scene of the shooting

22 PHOTOS
Photos from the scene of the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting
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Photos from the scene of the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting
Police block a road in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, 2017, after a mass shooting a church nearby. A gunman shot dead at least 20 worshippers attending Sunday morning services at a Baptist church in Texas, news media reported. / AFP PHOTO / SUZANNE CORDEIRO (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Police block a road in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, 2017, after a mass shooting a church nearby. A gunman shot dead at least 20 worshippers attending Sunday morning services at a Baptist church in Texas, news media reported. / AFP PHOTO / SUZANNE CORDEIRO (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Police block a road in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5, 2017, after a mass shooting at the the First Baptist Church. A gunman went into the church during Sunday morning services and shot dead some two dozen worshippers, the sheriff said, in the latest mass shooting to shock the US. 'Approximately 25 people' were dead, including the shooter, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told NBC News. At least 10 people were wounded. The motive was not immediately known, he added. / AFP PHOTO / SUZANNE CORDEIRO (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Police block a road in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5, 2017, after a mass shooting at the the First Baptist Church (rear). A gunman went into the church during Sunday morning services and shot dead some two dozen worshippers, the sheriff said, in the latest mass shooting to shock the US. 'Approximately 25 people' were dead, including the shooter, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told NBC News. At least 10 people were wounded. The motive was not immediately known, he added. / AFP PHOTO / SUZANNE CORDEIRO (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Families gather at the community center awaiting news about the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
Families gather at the community center awaiting news about the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 5: Law enforcement officials gather near the First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 20 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 5: Law enforcement officials gather near the First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 20 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 6: Law enforcement officials gather near the First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 20 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 5: Law enforcement and forensic officials gather near the First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 20 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 5: A forensics official passes by the entrance to the First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 20 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 5: Law enforcement officials gather near the First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 20 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Families gather at the community center awaiting news about the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
Police are at the scene of the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
Families gather at the community center awaiting news about the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
Police have closed off the roads near the scene of the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
First responders are at the shooting scene at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
First responders are at the scene of shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
First responders are at the scene of shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 5: People gather near First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 26 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, allegedly entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 5: Law enforcement officials gather near First Baptist Church following a shooting on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At least 26 people were reportedly killed and 24 injured when a gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, allegedly entered the church during a service and opened fire. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
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