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Victims of Sutherland Springs Church Shooting Reach $144.5 Million Settlement with US Government

Victims of Sutherland Springs Church Shooting Reach $144.5 Million Settlement with US Government

On Wednesday, the United States Department of Justice announced it had reached an “agreement in principle” to settle claims from the November 2017 mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church for $144.5 million.

This comes after a federal court in 2021 ruled the U.S. government was liable for damages caused by the shooting in which 26 people were killed and 22 others were wounded.

The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, was a former member of the Air Force. The Air Force acknowledged after the shooting that it failed to relay Kelley’s court-martial conviction for domestic assault to civilian law enforcement. Prosecutors argued the move could have prevented Kelley from purchasing the firearms he used.

Despite his history of domestic abuse and questionable behavior involving firearms, Kelley was able to purchase the Ruger AR-556 rifle he used in the shooting from a store in April 2016. The failure to relay information about the shooter’s martial conviction prevented its entry into the National Crime Information Center, a federal database that must be checked before someone is able to purchase a firearm. If it had been entered, it should have prevented gun sales to Kelley.

On Nov. 5, 2017, Kelley opened fire on Sunday morning worshippers at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a small rural community about 30 miles east of San Antonio. Among those killed was the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter and the shooter’s grandmother-in-law.

As Kelley was leaving the church, a local resident armed with a rifle confronted the shooter and exchanged gunfire. Kelley fled in his vehicle to a neighboring county, where law enforcement found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A suit was brought by survivors of the shooting and relatives of the victims, and Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the Western District of Texas found the government 60 percent responsible for the harm that happened and liable for damages. The DOJ earlier this year appealed the 2021 ruling, though a spokesperson shared the government and plaintiffs were working toward an out-of-court resolution.

The settlement is still subject to approval by a court, and some parts of it have yet to be approved.

“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”

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