Air Force missed at least two chances to stop Texas shooter from buying guns

NEW YORK, Nov 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force missed at least two chances to block the shooter in last weekend's deadly church attack in Texas from buying guns after he was accused of a violent offense in 2012, according to current and former government officials and a review of military documents.

A third opportunity to flag shooter Devin Kelley was lost two years later by a twist of bad luck when a Pentagon inspection of cases narrowly missed the former airman.

The Air Force said on Monday it had failed to provide information as required about Kelley's criminal history to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal databases. It gave few other details about the omission.

RELATED: Some of the 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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A review of Department of Defense procedures by Reuters shows that the military twice should have flagged Kelley, then serving at a New Mexico base, after he was accused of repeatedly beating his wife and stepson.

If Pentagon rules had been followed, the Air Force should have put Kelley into national criminal databases used for background checks soon after he was charged.

The Air Force should then have flagged Kelley, 26, again later that year after his court-martial conviction for assault, which permanently disqualified him from legally getting a gun.

When presented with this account of how the FBI was not alerted about Kelley, Air Force officials confirmed the procedures that should have happened.

"That is what the investigation is looking at now," Brooke Brzozowske, an Air Force spokeswoman, said. The FBI confirmed it never received Kelley's records.

Kelley bought guns from a store in Texas in 2016 and 2017, although it is not clear whether these were the weapons he used last Sunday to attack churchgoers in Sutherland Springs before killing himself. Authorities said he killed 26 people, including a pregnant woman's unborn child.

If the Air Force had flagged Kelley to the FBI either when he was charged and convicted, he would have been unable to get a gun legally.

Reuters has been unable to determine exactly how or why Kelley's records were not shared.

Kelley also narrowly slipped through the system in 2014 when the Pentagon's inspector general told the Air Force it was routinely failing to send criminal records to the FBI, and urged them to correct this in some old cases like Kelley's

The then inspector general, Jon Rymer, raised the alarm with the military.

He looked at 358 convictions against Air Force employees between June 2010, and October 2012. In about a third of those cases, fingerprints and court-martial outcomes were wrongly not relayed to the FBI, the inspector general's report said.

Rymer recommended that the Air Force send what missing fingerprints and records it could from his sample period to the FBI, and the Air Force agreed. But Kelley was convicted in November 2012, a week after the sample period ended, and it appears that his case was never looked at again.

The inspector general's office said it was investigating what happened with Kelley's file, and suggested that the military should have done more after its report to correct errors in sharing information.

"Our recommendations, while directed at the period that was reviewed and future investigations, also applied to the entire system," said Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office.

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

11 PHOTOS
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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FIRST MISTAKE

According to statements from the Air Force and FBI and a review of Defense Department rules, the first mistake came when the Air Force failed to send along Kelley's fingerprints.

The military makes it mandatory to collect fingerprints when someone is accused of a serious crime such as assault, as Kelley was in June 2012.

By then, the U.S. military had recently switched to using the FBI's automated records-submission system for all fingerprints, which digitally scans prints and adds them to FBI databases.

It was not clear what happened to Kelley's fingerprints. The Air Force said it was investigating whether they were even taken.

Entering his fingerprints and other information in the FBI's so-called Interstate Identification Index (III) would have been enough to flag Kelley as needing further investigation in 2016 when he tried to buy a gun at a San Antonio store.

"When they hit on a record like that they delay the transaction," said Frank Campbell, a former Justice Department employee who helped develop the FBI's background check system that licensed gun dealers must consult before a potential sale.

The FBI would then have asked the Air Force the outcome of Kelley's case. The airman was convicted of a crime involving domestic violence that carries a maximum penalty of more than one year in prison, both of which disqualify a person from buying guns and ammunition under federal law.

The FBI could have then added Kelley's name to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Indices (NICS Indices), which would mean he would instantly fail future background checks.

Instead, Kelley cleared the background check and walked out of the store with a gun, and returned the following year, passed another background check and bought a second one, the store said.

According to Defense Department rules, the Air Force should have caught its error after Kelley's court-martial ended when it was obliged to notify the FBI that Kelley had been convicted, and that his crime involved domestic violence

The FBI said on Wednesday it had no record in its three databases for background checks, including the III database and the NICS Indices, of ever receiving information from the Air Force about Kelley's conviction.

Air Force officials said it was the responsibility of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the force's law enforcement agency, to take fingerprints and share any necessary information with the FBI, and it was not immediately clear why it had not. (Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Alistair Bell)

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