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Mental health issues in Allen mass shooting resemble concerns that emerged after Sutherland Springs

People raise their hands as they leave a shopping center following reports of a shooting, in Allen, Texas, on Saturday.
LM Otero
People raise their hands as they leave a shopping center following reports of a shooting, in Allen, Texas, on Saturday.

Mauricio Garcia, the alleged gunman in the Allen, Texas, mass shooting on Saturday, was kicked out of the Army after three months in 2008, and that may have been linked to his mental health.

The news emerged soon after the families in the deadliest shooting in Texas history — Sutherland Springs — settled with the U.S. government over the military’s failures to protect the public from that shooter.

The military did not disclose Sutherland Springs shooter Devin Kelley’s mental illness and criminal history to civilian authorities or add his infractions to the national background check system. Twenty-six people died in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, 2017, and many others were left with severe physical and mental health trauma.

An Army spokesman confirmed Garcia, 33, served in the military for three months in 2008 before being discharged. Since the Allen shooting, Garcia was linked to a number of far-right social media posts and groups with Nazi imagery and violence.

The Army did not respond to TPR's questions about Garcia’s military criminal record.

Jamal Alsaffar, an attorney for the Sutherland Springs families, drew connections between Garcia and Kelley.

“You have a young, disaffected male who was in the armed forces, who the military knew had mental health problems that caused them to discharge him because he wasn’t fit or was too dangerous to be in the military,” he said of Garcia.

He then recited nearly the same set of facts for Kelley.

Kelley spent years in the U.S. Air Force and was involuntarily committed by the military twice. He was arrested and found guilty of assaulting his then wife and stepson and ultimately court martialed.

The trial showed repeated threats of violence against his commanders. At one point, he was remanded to a psychiatric facility from which he escaped. Documents showed that commanders were concerned he would commit mass violence on base. But when he was kicked out of the service, no one outside the military was warned.

“I've never read anything so terrible in my life,” said Daniel Webster, a professor at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. “They were doing various things to prevent a mass shooting against them at the base but they failed to do the very basic things to prevent one in the public.”

The settlement in the deadliest mass shooting in Texas, at $144.5 million, is the largest of its kind against the government.

Joey Palacios

“The extent that they knew, the degree of danger [Kelley] possessed, the amount of violence he committed ... that they did not release to the public and let them know. So I want to make sure that that we make a correct distinction here because obviously there's a lot to find out in the Allen shooting,” Alsaffar said.

Facts of military culpability in that case were kept secret from the public for years, Alsaffar said, only being revealed when subpoena and legal action forced its disclosure. He believes the military should release all its documents to the now-deceased Garcia. The Army has declined so far.

Webster said due to the length of time Garcia was in the service, he doubted any criminal conviction existed. There are mental health issues that can bar people from purchasing weapons though if they are communicated to authorities — but Webster said people were rarely screened out from purchasing firearms for mental health issues.

Webster noted another difference between the two men: Garcia, who allegedly committed the Allen shooting, appeared to have been motivated to violence by hate and white supremacy. But Kelley was motivated to it by familiar resentment. The cite of Kelley’s carnage was First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where his in-laws attended services regularly.

Ultimately, the strongest known tie between the two men isn’t past military service or racial attitudes — it was unfettered access to guns. In Kelley’s instance, because of government failures. The reasons are not yet known in the Garcia case.

“You often see very troubled people with violent histories but they aren’t prohibited legally from having guns,” Webster explained, “because are policies are too open.”

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org