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NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — The gunman suspected of opening fire at this town’s First Baptist Church Sunday was a former U.S. Air Force airman who had a string of legal troubles beginning in at least 2012, when he was court-martialed and sentenced to a year in military prison for assaulting his wife and child.
Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, killed more than two dozen people before fleeing the scene and apparently taking his own life, authorities said. Police said Monday morning that the shooting followed a “domestic situation” and that at least one of his relatives attended the church he targeted.
While authorities offered no specific motive, the details help fill in the patchwork profile emerging of Kelley in the aftermath of the country’s most recent deadly mass shooting.
Kelley enlisted in 2010 and served as a logistical readiness airman at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told The Washington Post. Court records in nearby Alamogordo, N.M., show that in October 2012, Tessa K. Kelley filed for divorce against Devin P. Kelley. The case appears to have concluded in a matter of days, with a settlement recorded the same day as the initial filing. There are no children listed in the proceedings.
Following his prison sentence, Kelley was reduced in rank and released from the military with a bad conduct discharge in 2014.
Earlier that year, he was charged with a misdemeanor count of mistreatment, neglect or cruelty to animals in El Paso County, Colo., where he lived at one point, records show.
On Aug. 1, 2014, sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of a man who was punching a dog, police records show. Four witnesses told deputies that they saw a man matching Kelley’s description yelling at and chasing a white and brown Husky.
“The suspect then started beating on the dog with both fists, punching it in the head and chest,” a deputy wrote in the incident report. “He could hear the suspect yelling at the dog and while he was striking it, the dog was yelping and whining. The suspect then picked up the dog by the neck into the air and threw it onto the ground and then drug him away to lot 60.”
Kelley was charged with animal cruelty and the dog was transferred to the Humane Society for a full medical evaluation.
Records indicate that Kelley lived for some period on a property valued at about $800,000 owned by his parents in New Braunfels, Tex., a rural suburb of San Antonio about 35 miles north of Sutherland Springs. The secluded home sits on 28 acres of wooded farmland, separated from the nearest main road by a long private driveway.
Neighbors told local media that Kelley lived in a barn in back of the 3,700-square-foot home with his current wife and 2-year-old son. They said the family had lived there for more than a decade.
Dave Ivey, who identified himself as Kelley’s uncle, apologized to the shooting victims in an interview with NBC News.
“I never in a million years could have believed Devin could be capable of this kind of thing,” Ivey said. “My family will suffer because of his coward actions.”
Cars lined the highway outside the house at 2825 FM 2722 on Monday morning. A Comal County sheriff’s truck blocked the property’s gate, which was adorned with a “Beware of dog,” sign.
Doug, who lives across the street and declined to give his last name, said he didn’t get to know the family at all, in the 11 years he lived on the road.
“The only time I see them is when they’re going out and they don’t even look my way,” he said. He said he didn’t recognize the shooter.
He said he regularly heard gunshots coming from the property across the street but thought little of it. The noise used to shake his two small dogs, Scholtz and Gretchen, he said.
Mark Moravitz, who lives across the street from the Kelley family, also said he frequently heard gunfire coming from the property, often around 10 or 11 p.m.
“We hear a lot of gunfire a lot,” he told KSAT, “but we’re out in the country.”
Reached by phone Sunday night, several other neighbors told The Washington Post that they didn’t know the Kelley family but noted that several ranches in the area allow hunting. The sound of gunshots isn’t unusual, they said.
Moravitz told local media that the Kelley family traveled frequently, so he would house sit for them. He described Kelley as a “regular guy” and said it was “shocking” to hear about the shooting. “You never think your neighbor is capable of something like that,” he said. “If he did that, that kind of worries you, thinking we’ve been living next door to the guy.”
Other neighbors told KENS 5 that they would sometimes see couches, bicycles, lawn mowers and other household items along the street in front of the property, placed there as if they were free for the taking.
Officials described the shooter’s weapon as a Ruger AR-556, an assault-style rifle similar to those used by the military. CNN, citing a law enforcement individual, reported that Kelley purchased the weapon in April 2016 from an Academy Sports & Outdoors store in San Antonio.
A Facebook page bearing Kelley’s name showed a photo of a Ruger assault-style rifle. The page was taken down at some point on Sunday. The Los Angeles Times reported that in recent months Kelley had started adding strangers from the Sutherland Springs area as Facebook friends and picking fights with them.
Johnathan Castillo told the Times that he accepted Kelley’s friend request a couple months ago, but deleted it soon after. Castillo said of Kelley: “It’s like he went looking for it, you know what I mean?”
Attempts to reach members of Kelley’s immediate family were unsuccessful late Sunday night.
During the evening, Texas Rangers and a K-9 vehicle were staked out in front of the family’s house, according to local media. Deputies were reportedly guarding the entrance to the home.
Hawkins and Tate reported from Washington. Joel Achenbach in New Braunfels and Sandhya Somashekhar, Wesley Lowery, Alex Horton and Travis Andrews in Washington contributed to this story.
Derek Hawkins is a cybersecurity policy reporter and author of The Cybersecurity 202 newsletter. He previously wrote for The Washington Post's Morning Mix, where he covered law, crime, politics and breaking news. He has also worked for Law360 focusing on federal courts and the energy industry. Follow