NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The US airforce missed at least two chances to block the shooter in last weekend's deadly church attack in Texas from buying guns after he was accused of a violent offence in 2012, according to current and former government officials and a review of military documents.
A third opportunity to flag shooter Devin Kelley was lost two years later by a twist of bad luck when a Pentagon inspection of cases narrowly missed the former airman.
The airforce said on Monday (Nov 6) it had failed to provide information as required about Kelley's criminal history to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) criminal databases. It gave few other details about the omission.
A review of Department of Defence procedures by Reuters shows that the military twice should have flagged Kelley, then serving at a New Mexico base, after he was accused of repeatedly beating his wife and stepson.
If Pentagon rules had been followed, the airforce should have put Kelley into national criminal databases used for background checks soon after he was charged.
The airforce should then have flagged Kelley, 26, again later that year after his court-martial conviction for assault, which permanently disqualified him from legally getting a gun.
When presented with this account of how the FBI was not alerted about Kelley, airforce officials confirmed the procedures that should have happened.
"That is what the investigation is looking at now," Brooke Brzozowske, an Air Force spokeswoman, said. The FBI confirmed it never received Kelley's records.
Kelley bought guns from a store in Texas in 2016 and 2017, although it is not clear whether these were the weapons he used last Sunday to attack churchgoers in Sutherland Springs before killing himself. Authorities said he killed 26 people, including a pregnant woman's unborn child.
If the airforce had flagged Kelley to the FBI either when he was charged and convicted, he would have been unable to get a gun legally.
Reuters has been unable to determine exactly how or why Kelley's records were not shared.
Kelley also narrowly slipped through the system in 2014 when the Pentagon's inspector general told the airforce it was routinely failing to send criminal records to the FBI, and urged them to correct this in some old cases like Kelley's The then inspector general, Jon Rymer, raised the alarm with the military.
He looked at 358 convictions against employees between June 2010, and October 2012. In about a third of those cases, fingerprints and court-martial outcomes were wrongly not relayed to the FBI, the inspector general's report said.
Rymer recommended that the airforce send what missing fingerprints and records it could from his sample period to the FBI, and the airforce agreed. But Kelley was convicted in November 2012, a week after the sample period ended, and it appears that his case was never looked at again.
The inspector general's office said it was investigating what happened with Kelley's file, and suggested that the military should have done more after its report to correct errors in sharing information.
"Our recommendations, while directed at the period that was reviewed and future investigations, also applied to the entire system," said Dwrena Allen, a spokesman for the inspector general's office.