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The Sutherland Springs Shooter Was Yet Another Man With A History Of Domestic Violence

 

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Yesterday, Sunday, November 5, a 26-year-old white man named Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and injuring 20 others. Kelley was later found dead, though according to NBC, it’s unclear if his death was a suicide or if he was killed by a local resident.

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As details emerged about Kelley, it became clear that Kelley had something in common with many mass shooters: he’s a man with a history of domestic violence.

The Washington Post reports that, in 2012, Kelley — a former U.S. Air Force airman — was court-martialed and sentenced to a year in military prison for assaulting his spouse and child. Also in 2012, Kelley’s wife Tessa K. Kelley filed for divorce, which, the Washington Post writes, “appears to have been concluded in a matter of days, with a settlement recorded the same day as the initial filing.”

After his prison sentence, Kelley was reduced in rank. He left the military with a bad conduct discharge in 2014. Later that same year, Kelley married again and at the time of the shooting had a two-year-old son. NBC writes that “the status of that relationship was unclear,” and that Kelley’s second wife and her parents sometimes attended services at First Baptist Church, though they weren’t there on Sunday.

Kelley’s ex-girlfriend, Katy Landry, told NBC that Kelley was “sick in the head” and assaulted and stalked her after they broke up. Another ex-girlfriend, Brittany Adcock, said they dated when she was 13 and Kelley was 18: "At the time I didn’t think much into it being so young but now I realize that there’s something off about someone who is 18 with someone who is 13.” Adock said that Kelley harassed and stalked her after their breakup.

Kelley joins a long line of men with histories of domestic violence who have become mass murderers. In 2017:

• Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people and injured 546 in the Las Vegas shooting last month, “had a nasty habit of berating [his girlfriend] in public,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

• Emanuel K. Samson, who killed one and injured 7 others in Tennessee in September, had had the police called on him twice due to domestic violence, writes NBC.

• Spencer Hight killed his ex-wife and seven others in Texas in September; his ex-wife had previously told her mother that Hight had abused her, writes the New York Daily News.

• James Hodgkinson, who opened fire on a Congressional baseball practice in June, had previously been arrested for domestic battery and discharge of a fireman after assaulting his teenage foster daughter's friend, writes the Daily Beast. His foster daughter's friend also said that he abused his foster daughter, of whom he later lost custody.

• Willie Corey Godbolt, who killed eight people in Mississippi in May, had previously been accused of abusing his wife, who obtained a restraining order againts him citing felony domestic violence, reports the Associated Press.

• Esteban Santiago Ruiz, who opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport in January, had previously been arrested on domestic violence charges, reports the Sun-Sentinel. 

After the Congressional baseball shooting in June, The New Yorker listed the names of other recent shooters with a history of domestic violence, including Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel (Nice, 2016), Omar Mateen (Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, 2016), Cedric Ford (Kansas, 2016), Robert Lewis Dear (Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, 2015), Man Haron Monis (Sydney, Australia, 2014).

Covering the same shooting in a similar piece, The Cut added that although they hadn’t been arrested for domestic violence, Elliot Rodger (Isla Vista, 2014) and Dylann Roof (Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, 2015), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Elementary School, 2012), and Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City, 1995) had left behind plenty of documentation showing their hatred of women.

Last year, Everytown For Gun Safety analyzed the data and found that 54% of mass shootings were related to domestic or family violence. They found that in states that require background checks on all handgun sales, 47% fewer women are shot to death by partners than in states that don’t require background checks on all handgun sales. Furthermore, Everytown reported that about 4.5 million American women have had a partner threaten them with a gun, and that when a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, a woman is five times more likely to be shot and killed. And limiting gun access for domestic abusers helps curb gun deaths: in states that restrict access to firearms for people under domestic violence protective orders, there was a 25 percent reduction in intimate partner gun deaths.

Less than a week ago, Samantha Bee talked about the connection between mass shooters and domestic violence on her show in a segment called “Close the Boyfriend Loophole.” I’d say it was prescient, but at the rate mass shootings happen, I can’t.



“Mass shooters come in all male shapes and all male sizes, but most of them rehearse for it the same way,” Bee says in the segment. Cue a montage of news clips talking about mass shooters’ history of domestic violence. “Yep, you got it, the common thread is domestic violence,” Bee says.

She goes on to detail the “boyfriend loophole” as she calls it: Domestic abusers are prohibited from buying guns if they’ve ever been married to the victim, lived together, or had a child — but not if the abuser is a boyfriend who didn’t live with his victim. Originally, this rule had applied to all abusers, but, as Bee puts it, “There was concern that innocent men’s gun rights could be impeded because bitches be lyin’, so Congress defined domestic violence in a way that focuses on spouses, cohabitating couples, and couples with kids. But they excluded boyfriends, who are just keepin’ it casual.” Which leaves 25% of domestic violence victims vulnerable.

“Look, even if you don’t give a shit about domestic violence, abused women are the canary in the coal mine for mass shootings,” Bee adds. “If you take guns from abusers, you might even be able to save more important non-female lives. And the law shouldn’t care if the person holding a gun is married, because the gun definitely doesn’t.”

How do we prevent mass shootings? By enacting stricter gun control. By taking domestic violence seriously. Because "thoughts and prayers" are nothing without action.

Top photo: New York Times

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Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at erikawsmith@bust.com.

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