by Brian Garvey ’20
On Sunday, November 5, a terrible tragedy struck Sutherland Springs, Texas. Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire with a Ruger AR-556 assault-type rifle on those attending Sunday at First Baptist Church, killing 26 people. The victims ranged from 18 months old to 77 years old.
After going back to his car to reload, a neighbor of the church, Stephen Willeford, began firing at him with his rifle, hitting him in both legs. Kelley proceeded to try to flee in his car, pursued by Willeford and another passerby responding to the shots. After chasing Kelley into the next county, Kelley swerved and crashed in a ditch on the side of the road, having shot himself in the head. Willeford insisted later, “I think my God, my Lord protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done.”
A deeply disturbed man, 26-year-old Kelley was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 2012 for fracturing his infant son’s skull and attempting to choke his wife. His conviction of a crime of domestic violence is potentially punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year, and therefore Kelley should have been banned from buying or possessing a firearm for at least a year, according to Retired Colonel Don Christensen, the Air Force‘s top prosecutor during this charge.
Yet despite this ban—and despite the fact that he did not possess a license to carry—the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives reported that Kelley purchased four guns in the four years after his conviction and discharge. Authorities have indicated that this tragedy was motivated by Kelley’s family issues, as he had sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law, who was a member of the Church.
This possession of firearms has reignited the gun control debate in America, as many people are calling for a higher regulation of gun purchases, strict background checks, and the outright outlawing of assault weapons. In response to recent tragedies, Massachusetts banned bump-stocks, an accessory that enables an increased rate of fire.
This tragedy is compounded by the fact that this was an incredibly tightknit town, with the church being a central part of Sutherland Springs‘ identity. Yet one common theme when Texans talk about this horrible shooting is that the Texas community bond is too strong to be broken by this evil man.
Chase Rasch ‘18, who grew up in Dallas, about four hours north of Sutherland Springs, said that, “I take significant pride in being a ‘Texan.’ It is incredibly hard to hear about such a tragedy happen so close to home, and my heart goes out to the families that are suffering right now. That being said, the Texas bond is strong, and I am confident that we will unite around this act of terror and come out on top as a community.”
Caroline Mallon ’20, who is from Houston, echoed, “Texas has had a really hard couple of months due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey. Many people have lost their homes, people have died or been injured, and this is the last thing I think anyone would have expected to happen. If there’s one thing I have learned since moving to Texas, it’s that Texans stick together; people will move mountains to help each other, even from hundreds of miles away. I can only hope and pray that the people of Sutherland Springs will find strength in one another.”
For those who want to help the people of Sutherland Springs, South Texas Blood and Tissue Center is urging anyone with O-positive or O-negative blood type to make a donation. People can also donate directly to the families through the First Baptist Church website.