SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Note: The above video is from an April 7 story recapping Day 1 of the trial.
On the second day of testimony in the lawsuit brought by the victims and families of survivors in the Sutherland Springs mass shooting against the federal government, lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the federal government presented a timeline of what led up to the tragedy by questioning those close to the shooter.
KENS 5 is not naming the shooter.
Attorneys for both sides began with Texas Rangers investigators and presented evidence, primarily video and audio depositions, as well as portions of social media later obtained from the shooter’s Facebook account. The primary focus during much of Thursday's testimonies were relating to the shooter’s mental health history and the events of the day.
During the interviews with the shooter’s coworkers that were presented as evidence, one “stated in hindsight; he could see 'little things' in ****'s personality that made him not surprised ***** committed the shooting,” and that, "He was aware of ***** having 'issues' with his wife's (Danielle Kelley) side of the family as related to her pending criminal court case with her father in Guadalupe County."
On Wednesday, Danielle Kelley, the shooter’s widow, testified on the allegations she brought against a family member for sexual assault while growing up. This fact was mentioned throughout Thursday's testimonies when speaking of the shooter’s mental state.
The same coworker went on to say that he suffered from PTSD, and that he and the shooter were prescribed the same medicine (Clonazepan). He alleged the shooter admitted to taking three times the amount prescribed the day before the shooting. He went on to say that, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the shooter said, “If you’re going to do it, do it big,” and described himself as “homicidal” and “suicidal."
One of the shooter’s supervisors from 2010 said in her interview that when she met the shooter she thought he was "odd" and that she warned others to "keep an eye on him because he's the type of guy who will come shoot us."
In the shooter’s social media account transcripts of posts from his sister indicating “possible mental health issues” the day before and on the day of the shooting were shown. Other posts also referenced suicidal thoughts, an interest in mass shootings, drug use and Guy Fawkes Day (November 5).
A post referencing Danielle’s family stated, “My wife was the right person to marry but the rest of them could get shot in the face and I’d laugh.” Another stated, “you learn to shoot by doing it… a lot of mass shooters are impossible to detect. I’m pretty sure they don’t go around acting crazy screaming to the world but are very careful. Just like serial killers. So they pass psych evals anyway.” “Mass murderers don't do it because of video games. They do it because they are tired of the ******* ******** in the rigged system and the hate that breeds in all 90% of humans. And it's time for payback,” the post said, and continued with, “Most of them anyway. Serial killers do it because they are addicted too the rush of killing and get bored with killing animals."
Shields, Danielle Kelley’s mother, also took the stand Thursday. Her mother, 71-year-old Lula White, was killed the day of the shooting. Shields is the current treasurer of the First Baptist Church, a position her mother held as a volunteer before her passing. Lula was described as loving and a matriarch respected by all of the congregants at the church.
The last time Shields saw the shooter and her daughter, Danielle, was the day of the Fall Festival, a Halloween alternative hosted by the church. It was the first time she’d seen her new grandchild after the relationship was strained because of her son-in-law’s behavior.
It was also the first time she’d been able to speak to Danielle alone since she was married. She claimed that her son-in-law had total control over Danielle’s communications with her family, insisting every conversation be held in front of him and on speakerphone and was unaware of any domestic violence. Shields alleges that she later learned from another congregant that her son-in-law was “casing” the church in the brief time she was left alone with her daughter.
Shields said several incidents occurred between her family and her son-in-law that caused friction in the families while at the birth of both children – when she and her mother Lula White were told not to attend or help – and a third incident where the shooter pushed White.
Michael and Rebecca Kelley, the shooter’s parents, both said on the stand that he was a happy child, with a robust laugh and always smiling. Mrs. Kelley said that her son “gave her hell” as a teenager. Mr. Kelley said that he was changed after his time in the Air Force, a sentiment his wife echoed.
While serving in Colorado, the shooter twice sought treatment at Peak Military Care Network, a mental health facility, and was visited by his family. The Kelleys say they were never notified by the federal government that their son had restrictions preventing him from owning a gun; the restrictions stemmed from a court-martial the shooter received when he pleaded guilty for fracturing his ex-wife’s child’s skull.
Mr. Kelley said it was unclear what the legal ramifications were, but that it was considered a felony misdemeanor. Both said that if they knew the full extent of their son’s mental health issues, they would have sought treatment for their son and removed the weapons from his possession.
Some time on Nov. 5, as Rebecca Kelley started breakfast for her daughter and her friends who were in town for Wurstfest in New Braunfels, she and her husband received a text from their son stating “I’m sorry. I love you guys,” and that they needed to untie Danielle. Michael showed the text to his wife, and they both ran up to the barn that was on their property, and where Danielle and the shooter we living with their two children.
When Rebecca arrived at the barn, she remembered the door was locked and was looking for a way to get inside. When she entered, she called the scene “Pretty surreal… I saw Danielle tied up on the bed,” gesturing that Danielle was handcuffed with her arms behind her. It was apparent that she’d been crying.
That’s when she said she texted her son, “Where’s the key?” prompting her son to call her.
“He kept saying that he’d done a terrible thing and that he didn’t know what he was thinking,” Mrs. Kelley said, and that, "Mom, I killed a bunch of people."
During the confusion of untying Danielle, and while on the phone with their son, Michael Kelley asked him “You did what? Where? What is this place you’re talking about?” Danielle then informed them that he was in Sutherland Spring, where her mother lived.
Michael and Rebecca both wept as they recalled the final moments of that call. "'Mom, I'm dying.' And that's when I said, 'What?'", Mrs. Kelley said, and wept as she continued with "At this point, I can't forgive, but if it was me who had done this, I would still want to be told I was still loved. So I said, 'I love you, *****.'"
The trial is expected to continue for the next several weeks.