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AF: Failure to Report Church Shooter 'Was Not an Isolated Incident'

This undated photo shows Devin Patrick Kelley, the suspect in the shootings at the First Baptist Churck in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017. Texas Department of Public Safety via AP
This undated photo shows Devin Patrick Kelley, the suspect in the shootings at the First Baptist Churck in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017. Texas Department of Public Safety via AP

Officials at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, did not properly report criminal information to the civilian authorities about Texas church shooter and former airman Devin P. Kelley, a preliminary service investigation has found.

"The Air Force's review of its reporting processes to civilian law enforcement in the Devin P. Kelley case has prompted immediate actions to correct reporting deficiencies and prevent future occurrences," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement on Tuesday.

She said that based on initial findings in the case's chain, the Air Force Inspector General confirmed that "the [Office of Special Investigations] and Security Forces personnel then assigned at Holloman did not report required information."

"The review also found the error in the Kelley case was not an isolated incident and similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations," Stefanek said. "Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking," she said.

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Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have directed OSI and Security Forces officials to conduct reviews of all airmen with "reportable offenses" dating back to 2002, the statement said. Two tasks forces of 30 members from each organization are working the action -- which could result in a review of some 60,000 records.

"The Air Force 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," Stefanek said in a follow-up email.

The revelation about training failures has prompted the Air Force to take corrective actions in what will be a months-long process as the broader Defense Department review proceeds.

Aside from the task force, one of the new procedures is to establish a leadership requirement at the field, regional and headquarters levels "to verify that information from applicable cases is registered with the FBI's National Crime Information Center's Interstate Identification Index," Stefanek said.

"Additionally, supporting software, checklist and training changes were made to support the new procedures," she said.

Earlier this month, the service said it was likely that Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the NCIC database -- an electronic clearinghouse of crime data that can be tapped into by virtually every criminal justice agency, according to its website.

Because the agency wasn't aware of his criminal record, Kelley was able to buy an assault rifle-style weapon used in the mass shooting on Nov. 5, described as the deadliest ever to occur in Texas.

Armed with a Ruger AR-556 rifle and wearing black tactical gear, Kelley -- who served in the Air Force from 2010 until May 2014, when he was court-martialed -- entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs around 11:20 a.m. that Sunday and started shooting congregants during the service, killing at least 26 people and wounded numerous others.

NCIC lapse

Kelley's time in the service was cut short due to domestic abuse, including accusations he repeatedly pointed a loaded firearm at his then-wife, which led to a court-martial and bad-conduct discharge.

Charles McCullough, a lawyer and partner at Tully Rinckey, said that officials who were leading this case -- regardless of how the case developed -- should have considered the ramifications of Kelley's violent past.

"What's surprising here frankly is again these are done case by case, totality of the circumstances, you make these assessments, but anytime you've got violence and firearms, everybody's antenna should be up," said McCullough, formerly an intelligence community IG and FBI special agent.

"The fact this wasn't in NCIC -- NCIC is the best known database for criminal information in the country. It's what all of law enforcement uses, federal or state," McCullough said in a recent interview with Military.com.

"There are a lot databases that deal with specific things [such as] public source information, just financial information, [Department of] Treasury has their own database, but NCIC is what everyone uses. And so to not enter something like this into NCIC -- if that is indeed what happened -- that's a fairly significant lapse from a law enforcement standpoint.

"Just without knowing the specific details of the case, just with knowing you have a mixture...of firearms and violence -- the violence is bad enough, where we know that children are getting hit, and a wife getting hit, but then we have firearms, that is something that I would at least want further inquiry and it appears that the Air Force IG is doing that, and I expect the DoD IG to do that [as well]," he said.

Stefanek said that is now the goal of the review going forward.

"Air Force officials are correcting all identified deficiencies as they are discovered and reporting them to civilian law enforcement," Stefanek said. "The Air Force will continue to take steps to identify and remedy shortfalls as the review continues," she said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.