The gunman who committed the massacre in a rural Texas church fired continuously for several minutes, methodically shooting his victims -- including small children -- in the head, execution-style, a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said Wednesday.
A video camera captured the bloodbath inside the church, which left 26 people dead and 20 wounded -- the worst mass shooting in Texas history -- and state and federal investigators have reviewed that footage. The official estimated that the shooting in the video lasted about seven minutes. The church routinely recorded its services and often posted the resulting videos online.
The killer, armed with an assault-style rifle, went to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday morning with magazines capable of holding more than 400 rounds of ammunition, but it is not clear how many shots he actually fired, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
On Wednesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety released the names of the dead -- 10 women, seven men, eight children, and the unborn fetus carried by one of the victims, Crystal M. Holcombe. The youngest of the children was 1; the oldest of the adults was 77.
Eight of those gunned down belonged to a single family, the Holcombes and the Hills. One victim, Annabelle R. Pomeroy, 14, was the pastor's daughter.
The gunman, Devin Kelley, 26, was convicted in 2012, while he was in the Air Force, of assaulting his first wife and her son, a toddler, and he served time in a military prison. Under federal law, that should have prevented him from having firearms, but the Air Force admitted Monday that it had failed to forward information about his case to the national databases used for gun purchase background checks.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has directed the Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General to look into what happened in that case and review the reporting system in general. Several investigations and incidents have shown that the databases, run by the FBI, suffer from spotty reporting of criminal cases by the states and the military.
In 2015, Kelley tried unsuccessfully to get a Texas license to carry a handgun -- a failure that may have been linked to an animal cruelty charge against him the year before. While he was living in Colorado Springs, he was charged with a misdemeanor for beating his dog. A judge imposed a deferred judgment, and the charge was dismissed two years later, after Kelley completed a court-ordered period of probation.
After Kelley sought a license to carry a firearm, the Texas Department of Public Safety notified him that his application was delayed because of a "possibly disqualifying issue," the department said in a statement issued Wednesday, declining to elaborate. The department said it asked him for more information regarding his application, but he did not respond, so the application was denied.
An applicant for a carry license must report all arrests, no matter the outcome, and it is not clear whether Kelley reported the animal cruelty case. A background check by the department would not have turned up his military conviction, but it might have revealed the Colorado case. Even a deferred judgment, like Kelley's, can be grounds for denying a license, and so can failure to disclose part of the applicant's criminal history.
Kelley had bought four firearms, including the Ruger AR-556 semiautomatic rifle he used at the church, passing a background check each time. Investigators have recovered three of the weapons and are still searching for the fourth. The gunman also had an Apple iPhone with him, according to people familiar with the investigation, but the FBI has not been able to unlock the device.
The FBI and Apple are bracing for a potential fight over encryption, according to people familiar with the matter, recalling a 2016 standoff when the locked and encrypted iPhone of a gunman in San Bernardino, Calif., led to a court battle.
The federal government and the company have shied away from open confrontation since the 2016 encryption issue. In that fight, the Justice Department tried to force Apple to unlock the dead terrorist's phone. The company refused, arguing that to do so would create a security weakness in the phones of all customers.
That legal fight sparked a national debate about the competing interests of national security, law enforcement, personal privacy and giant tech firms. But the larger legal question of whether the government could force companies to provide access to phones and other electronic devices was never answered by the courts, because in the middle of the fight over the San Bernardino phone, the FBI found a private firm that could access the device.
As Kelley left the church, an armed bystander shot the gunman twice. The killer dropped his rifle and fled in his car, and the bystander and another man gave chase. The gunman shot himself in the head with one of two handguns he had taken to the church and was found dead after his car crashed.
Law enforcement officials have said Kelley had an ongoing dispute with the family of his estranged second wife, but they are still trying to determine if anything else led to the slaughter.
Kelley had attended the church in the past, and his mother-in-law was a regular there, though she was not present during the shooting. His wife's grandmother was one of the people he killed.
Officials have said they have no indication so far that anyone else was involved in the massacre, or that it was politically or religiously motivated.
Information for this article was contributed by Devlin Barrett and Ellen Nakashima of The Washington Post.
A Section on 11/09/2017
Print Headline: Gunman at Texas church fired execution-style, official states