Family of Sutherland Springs Victims Files Lawsuit Against Federal Government | Texas Public Radio

Family of Sutherland Springs Victims Files Lawsuit Against Federal Government

Jun 8, 2018

Family members that lost eight relatives in the mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs last November are filing suit against the federal government. The family is seeking millions of dollars in damages.


Joe Holcombe and Claryce Holcombe are parents of John Bryan Holcombe, who was killed inside First Baptist Church with seven other Holcombe family members: Emily Rose Hill, Gregory Lynn Hill, Megan Gail Hill, Marc Daniel Holcombe, Noah Holcombe, Karla Plain Holcombe, Crystal Marie Holcombe, and the unborn child of Crystal. More than a dozen others were killed in the shooting and 20 more were injured.

Houston-based attorney Rob Ammons said the Air Force failed to provide conviction and discharge information to the FBI that would have prevented the shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, from buying a gun.

“The shooter had a storied history of problems with law enforcement … while he was in the Air Force and the Air Force didn’t report him into the system,“ he said.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, claims damages of up to $25 million. It says the Air Force was negligent.

“(John Bryan) Holcombe’s death was caused, in whole or in part, by the institutional failures of the United States Department of Defense, including, but not limited to, the U.S. Air Force, in that these entities negligently, recklessly, carelessly and/or egregiously failed to report pertinent criminal arrest and conviction information of the shooter into a federal database, as required by law and which would have prevented and barred the shooter from purchasing, owning, and/or possessing the firearms that he used in the shooting,” the suit says.

The family filed an administrative complaint six months ago against the Air Force but received no formal response. Ammons said the federal government “has done nothing but ask for more information from the Holcombe family.”

Kelley was able to purchase a Ruger AR-556 rifle at an Academy Sports + Outdoors store in San Antonio, which was used in the shooting, a news release from Aamons said.

"Under a 1996 law preventing spouse and child abusers from possessing firearms, the service’s Office of Special Investigations should have entered that conviction into an FBI database,” Aamons wrote. "The office didn’t, the Air Force has admitted. What’s more, the acts Kelley pleaded guilty to — breaking his baby stepson’s skull and hitting and kicking his then-wife — were punishable by imprisonment of more than a year. That qualifies them as felonies, which must be entered into the database.”

The federal government has about four weeks to respond to the lawsuit.

Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@tpr.org and on Twitter at @joeycules