U.S. News

Texas victim's family files first claim against U.S. Air Force over church massacre

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Parents of one of the victims killed in the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at a Texas church filed a claim on Tuesday against the U.S. Air Force in what appeared to be the first legal action in connection to the incident.

A memorial is seen at the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

The administrative claim, which was filed directly with the Air Force in Washington, said the military acted negligently when it failed to report the criminal record of gunman Devin Kelly to a federal database that would have prevented him from legally purchasing a firearm.

Kelly killed 26 people and wounded more than 20 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The Air Force said in a statement it did not comment on specific claims. “Every claim that is filed is thoroughly processed and researched in accordance with established law and regulations,” said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman.

The claim was filed by Joe and Claryce Holcombe, parents of Bryan Holcombe, who was fatally shot in the back while walking to the church pulpit to lead the congregation in worship, according to the filing.

The San Antonio couple lost nine relatives in the shooting.

The claim filed on Tuesday is the first step plaintiffs need to take if they want to sue an entity of the U.S. government. A lawsuit can be filed six months later, during which time the government can investigate the accusations and offer a settlement.

Legal experts have said the Air Force would not be able to claim federal immunity in the case, but cautioned that any lawsuits faced a prolonged uphill battle over specific legal questions.

Kelly was convicted five years ago by a general court-martial of assaulting his then-wife and stepson while he was in the Air Force, offenses that made it illegal for him to possess a firearm.

The Air Force said in a statement on Nov. 7 that it did not enter that information into a federal database used in background checks for firearms purchases, something it was legally required to do.

On Tuesday, the Air Force said there were at least several dozen cases of serious crimes involving its personnel that it failed to report to the federal database.

Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney