Before a 26-year-old gunman entered a rural Texas church with a ballistic vest and a military-style rifle, killing at least 26 people Sunday, he was convicted of assaulting his wife and breaking his infant stepson’s skull.
In 2012, while stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Devin P. Kelley, 26, was charged with “assault on his spouse and assault on their child,” according to the Air Force.
“He assaulted his stepson severely enough that he fractured his skull, and he also assaulted his wife,” said Don Christensen, a retired colonel who was the chief prosecutor for the Air Force. “He pled to intentionally doing it.”
He was sentenced in November of that year to 12 months’ confinement and reduction to the lowest possible rank. After his confinement, he was discharged from the military with a bad conduct discharge. It is unclear whether his conviction would have barred him from purchasing a gun.
The case marked a long downward slide that included divorce and being charged with animal cruelty.
After Sunday’s shooting, friends from New Braunfels, Texas, where he went to high school, expressed shock, remembering how Kelley was a friendly, if awkward, teenager who in recent years grew so dark that many unfriended him on Facebook. “I had always known there was something off about him. But he wasn’t always a ‘psychopath’ though,” a longtime friend, Courtney Kleiber, posted on Facebook on Sunday. He was, she said, “happy at one point, normal, your average kid. We had a lot of good times together. Over the years we all saw him change into something that he wasn’t. To be completely honest, I’m really not surprised this happened, and I don’t think anyone who knew him is very surprised either.”
Kleiber did not respond to a request for comment.
After Kelley was discharged from the Air Force in 2014, he remarried in Texas, to Danielle Lee Shields, in April of that year, according to state records.
A few months later, he registered to vote in Colorado Springs, Colorado — a city with several Air Force bases — listing his address as parking space 60 at the Fountain Creek RV Park.
A woman living in a camper next door, who gave her name only as Susan, said a man of similar age and description lived in spot 60 for a few months during that time, but she never learned his name. “He was kind of off, lived here with a woman,” she said as she loaded blankets into one of the RV park’s washing machines.
He said hello a few times in passing but was never friendly and stayed only a few months, she said. She never heard any arguments from his trailer.
“The only thing that sticks out about him was his dog,” she said.
He had a pit bull puppy that he kept tied up in the sun all day outside of his RV, she said. She also recalled an incident in which the police were called because the man had struck the dog in the head.
The police arrived and there was a standoff for approximately an hour, she said, in which her neighbor refused to come out of his trailer.
Records show Kelley was charged with cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor, in August 2014. The case was dismissed. He moved out a few weeks later, she said.
Kelley, whose father, Michael Kelley, is a computer programmer and accountant, enlisted in the Air Force soon after graduating from New Braunfels High School in 2009. Devin Kelley served as a low-ranking airman in a logistics readiness unit. A LinkedIn account in his name says he worked in cargo and distribution before his court-martial.
The account says that after the military, Kelley worked as an aid at a Bible school in Kingsville, Texas, “helping their minds grow and prosper.”
Friends on Facebook said that in recent years, Kelley had become vocally anti-Christian, to the point where many stopped communicating with him. His Facebook page, which has been deleted, listed that he liked a number of atheist groups.
“He was always talking about how people who believe in God were stupid and trying to preach his atheism,” one of his Facebook friends, Nina Rosa Nava, posted on the site, saying she unfriended him because of it.
In June of this year, Kelley was hired as an unarmed night security guard at Schlitterbahn, a water park in New Braunfels. Less than six weeks later he was “terminated,” a spokeswoman for the park, Winter D. Prosapio, said Monday, adding, “He was not a good fit.”
By 2017, he had returned to a house in New Braunfels that records show was owned by his parents. The house was about an hour from the church where the shooting occurred. According to local law enforcement, Kelley had become estranged from his second wife, who at times attended the church.
The cover photo on Kelley’s Facebook page appears to show a Ruger 8515 rifle, equipped with additional aftermarket products, including a red-dot aiming sight for faster target acquisition and perhaps a two-stage trigger for greater accuracy.
Such rifles have been legal to manufacture and sell to civilians in most of the United States since the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, and have become popular among many firearms owners.
Kelley seemed enamored with the weapon. He posted a photograph of it on Oct. 29 with the caption: “She’s a bad bitch.”
On Sunday, police cars from the Comal County Sheriff’s Department lined the gunman’s driveway on a rural stretch of land in New Braunfels. Wire fences kept visitors from the house, which was hidden by cactus and brush that fills the property. Signs on a cattle gate at the entrance read “no trespassing” and “beware of dog.”
Neighbors said they didn’t know the Kelleys.
“Out here, people tend to keep to themselves,” said Tim Daughtrey, who cuts cedar for clients in the area, and lives in walking distance from Kelley’s home. Daughtrey, 40, said the town was mostly uneventful, as far as crime goes. “I see a barroom fight every now and then, he said, but not shootings.
Some neighbors said they sometimes heard gunfire from the property. But in this stretch of the Texas hill country, that is common.
One neighbor, who would only give his name as Doug, said he heard shots fired at the Kelley property that would set his dogs barking.
“My dogs, they would be outside, and we would hear, ‘Bim-bam, bim-bam, bim-bam, bim-bam,” he said.