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Family who lost 9 relatives in Texas church shooting files lawsuit against federal government

Lawsuit questions U.S. Air Force about gunman's past convictions

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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas – Members of the Holcombe family who lost nine relatives in the Sutherland Springs church shooting last year announced Friday that they filed a lawsuit against the federal government.

The filers of the lawsuit, Joe and Claryce Holcombe, lost their son, John Bryan Holcombe, and eight other relatives in the shooting. The lawsuit alleges that while Devin Patrick Kelley pulled the trigger, shortcomings of the U.S. Air Force allowed Kelley to lawfully obtain a weapon.

RELATED: Family that lost 9 in Texas church shooting files wrongful death claims against Air Force

Houston-based attorney Rob Ammons filed a notice of claim on behalf of the family six months ago, demanding to know why the Air Force failed to provide key information to the FBI that should have prevented Kelley from purchasing firearms.

Kelley was convicted on domestic violence charges in connection with a series of incidents that included fracturing his stepson’s skull and choking and pointing a gun at his then-wife in 2012.

According to documents provided by the U.S. Air Force, Kelley — who served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until 2014 — accepted a plea deal that kept him from spending the five years in a military prison he faced.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for two counts under Article 128 UCMJ, assault on his spouse and assault on their child. He received a bad conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction to the grade of E-1.

Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction.

However, initial information indicates Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations, an Air Force spokesman said in a statement. The Air Force launched a review of how the information was handled.

Since Ammons filed the notice of the claim, the government "had a six-month window to determine their action and respond, but has done nothing but ask for more information from the Holcombe family," according to a news release.

The family filed a lawsuit with the hopes of getting a quicker response.

Kelley used a Ruger AR-566 rifle, which he lawfully purchased at an Academy Sports & Outdoors in San Antonio, to carry out the mass killing.