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After more than 5 years, families of Sutherland Springs shooting victims may have a resolution

Virginia Finster
Contributed Photo

Victims of the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting and their families have reached a $144.5 million settlement with the U.S. government, according to court documents filed on Wednesday.

The government appealed a more than $230 million awarded to the families by a federal judge last year.

The award was about half of what the families' lawyers had said was necessary to continue to care for the living victims of shooter Devin Kelley and to compensate the families of those killed at First Baptist Church. Twenty-six people were killed and more than 20 were injured.

Now, according to lawyers for the family, they are willing to pay a little more than half that amount to resolve the case.

A federal judge found the Air Force partially liable for the shooting because it failed to enter the shooter’s criminal history into the national background check system.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez said that would have stopped Kelley’s purchase of the assault rifle he used in the shooting.

Jamal Alsaffar, a lawyer for the families, said that although the Justice Department agreed to pay the settlement, the impact of the case goes beyond the money awarded.

A federal judge has awarded victims of the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting and their families more than $230 million.

“What they were able to do by filing this case was get some legislation passed to fix the problem — fix the entire military reporting system that had not been fixed for 30 years — and do something very rare: Make the entire country safer from gun violence,” he said.

The government settlement would be more than the $127 million given to families of the 2018 Parkland shooter and the $88 million given to victims and families of the 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was expected to sign off on the deal, which will resolve one of the deadliest mass shootings in Texas history.

More than four years after a former airman killed 26 people at a rural Texas church, advocates say the military still needs to do more to prevent violent service members and veterans from owning guns.

Kelley had been a problem throughout his short military career in Air Force but was afforded numerous chances to reform.

While in the service he assaulted his then wife and cracked his stepson’s skull. He was placed at a psychiatric facility, from which he fled.

The trial against the government revealed he had made several violent threats against his commanders, and they feared he would act out violently against them. Ultimately, he was court martialed for the assaults and sentenced to 12 months.

Despite this, his military criminal record was not given to the civilian authorities, which highlighted a broken system.

The case spurred legislation aimed at bridging the legal gap and ensuring violent military offenders are entered into the system.

Kelley was injured in the shooting and then killed himself after crashing his vehicle.

The shooting left victims and family members of victims with years of physical and mental health needs that their lawyers said this settlement will help address.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org