The Air Force on Tuesday said it has found dozens of database reporting lapses of the same kind that may have allowed the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooter to buy guns despite his domestic violence conviction.
The additional database lapses that have so far been found have been corrected, the Air Force said.
The announcement comes as the family of victims of the church shooting are starting to file civil claims against the Air Force, the San Antonio Express-News reported Tuesday.
Former airman Devin Kelley killed 26 people in a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church Nov. 5. Kelley was convicted in 2012 of beating his then-wife and stepson and jailed for a year. His conviction should have barred him from ever buying guns again.
However, Holloman Air Force Base’s Office of Special Investigations and security forces failed to report Kelly’s conviction to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, which gun sellers would have checked and would likely have blocked his attempt to legally purchase guns.
After the shooting, the Air Force and the Pentagon began reviewing how it handled Kelley’s case, and other similar cases dating back to 2002, to make sure they were properly reported to the appropriate databases.
The Air Force inspector general’s preliminary findings found “similar reporting lapses” happened at other bases in addition to Holloman, the Air Force said in a release. The preliminary findings also confirmed the reporting failures in Kelly’s case.
There were policies and procedures in place requiring cases like Kelley’s to be reported, the Air Force said. But training and compliance measures to make sure this happened fell short.
In a follow-up email, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the service “has reported and corrected several dozen records since the review began and is reviewing approximately 60,000 cases involving serious offenses over the 15-year period to ensure full compliance.”
The Air Force said the Office of Special Investigations and the service’s security forces have either already taken, or are about to take, corrective actions to make sure these cases are properly reported to civilian law enforcement agencies.
For example, the Air Force said it has begun requiring leaders at the field, regional and headquarters levels to make sure cases are properly reported to the FBI database’s Interstate Identification Index. The Air Force has also updated its software, checklist and training to support the new procedures.
The Air Force assembled two task forces of 30 members each — one for OSI and one for security forces — to make sure all cases are in full compliance with reporting requirements.
The Air Force said it’s working to identify and correct reporting shortfalls as the review continues, and that the review will be finished in the next few months.
“The Air Force IG is closely monitoring all corrective actions and the ongoing review of records to assess progress and report to Air Force leadership,” the release said.
On Tuesday, the San Antonio Express-News reported that a lawyer for Joe and Claryce Holcombe — whose son, Associate Pastor Bryan Holcombe, and eight other family members were killed in the shooting — has filed an administrative claim accusing the Air Force of negligence. The Holcombes are looking for information on why the Air Force failed to report Kelley’s conviction information.
Another lawyer representing two brothers whose family members were killed is about to announce a similar claim, the Express-News reported.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.