This article was originally posted on Guns.com
The relatives of nine victims gunned down at a Texas church Nov. 5 blame the U.S. Air Force for their family members’ deaths, according to court filings, and want to make sure such a tragedy never happens again.
Joe and Claryce Holcombe filed a wrongful death claim Tuesday in what is one of the the first legal actions taken since 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, a former Airman, murdered 26 people — including their son, John Bryan Holcombe, and eight other relatives — at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
“We want to discipline the Air Force so something like this never happens again,” Joe Holcombe told KSAT News in San Antonio Tuesday. “I just know that God’s in charge and he is going to make whatever should happen, happen.”
Air Force officials earlier this month acknowledged failing to report Kelley’s 2012 assault convictions to federal authorities and directed an agency-wide review of more than 60,000 criminal cases dating back to 2002. So far, officials said Tuesday, multiple instances of unreported convictions have been discovered.
The Holcombes allege in the complaint, however, the Air Force knew about this problem decades before and never did anything about it.
A 2015 review conducted by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General found roughly one-third of all service member convictions weren’t turned over to appropriate law enforcement agencies and criminal databases — a failure uncorrected since auditors first recognized the lapses in 1997.
Military officials at the time agreed with report recommendations to boost compliance, but never followed through on any corrective action — a critical step that may have prevented the church massacre, according to the complaint.
“Simply put, JB Holcombe’s death was caused, in whole or in part, by the institutional failure of the United States Department of Defense, including, but not limited to, the United States Air Force, in that these entities negligently, recklessly, carelessly and/or egregiously failed to report pertinent criminal arrest, conviction and military discharge information of the shooter into a federal database, as was required … ” the complaint says.
Kelley served time in a California military prison after admitting to fracturing his infant stepson’s skull and twice pointing a gun as his wife in 2012 while serving at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. He received a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge in 2014.
Despite his disqualifying criminal history, Kelley bought four guns after leaving the military — including the Ruger AR-556 rifle used in the church shooting. The Air Force’s failure to report his convictions to the FBI meant the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — the database used to verify a buyer’s identity and eligibility to own a gun — would never pick up on Kelley’s prohibited status.
“We have a system in place,” said Rob Ammons, the attorney representing the Holcombe family. “We don’t need more laws necessarily. We need more folks to do their jobs.”
The Holcombe family didn’t specify damages in the complaint, preferring for corrective action first to prevent future tragedies.
“Let’s prevent these servicemen that have been convicted of these violent crimes from getting guns,” Ammons told KSAT News. “Let’s stop that and we’ll worry about the rest later.”