The U.S. Air Force must pay $230 million to the survivors and those whose relatives were killed during a 2017 mass shooting inside a Texas church, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The military branch failed to report the gunman’s criminal history, which could have prevented him from purchasing a rife used to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, the judge said.
Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire during Sunday services on November 5. He later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being shot and chased by two men who heard gunfire at the house of worship.
Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court in Texas wrote that the Air Force failed to report Kelley’s 2012 conviction for domestic assault, and ordered the Air Force to pay damages to the victims for their “pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, impairment and loss of companionship,” the judge wrote. He noted the case was “unprecedented in kind and scope.”
His ruling followed a lawsuit filed against the federal government by families of the victims.
“Ultimately, there is no satisfying way to determine the worth of these families’ pain,” Rodriguez wrote.
Kelley was convicted of assaulting his wife and stepson during Air Force court-martial proceedings in 2012, the military said. He served 12 months before receiving a bad-conduct discharge in 2014.
According to Pentagon rules, his conviction should have been reported to the FBI for entry in a national crime database.
The Air Force acknowledged its error after the shooting. A background check at the time of Kelley’s purchase should have prevented him from legally obtaining a military-style rife and other weapons he bought before the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.
A spokeswoman for the Air Force said the military branch planned to appeal Rodriguez’s decision. “We are aware of the court’s award and are reviewing the judge’s ruling,” Ann Stefanek said Monday.
Kelley walked into the small Baptist church and fired into pews where worshippers sat. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72, and included a pregnant woman and the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter.
Authorities counted the woman’s fetus in its death toll.