Two women believed to be the wife and mother-in-law of the gunman who opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday sometimes attended the church and appear to have been close to the pastor’s family, online records and social media profiles reviewed by Yahoo News show.
Officials say the gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, Texas, killed 26 people and wounded 20 others in what authorities say was the worst mass shooting in state history and the deadliest at any house of worship in U.S. history. Kelley was found dead following a high-speed chase that began after he was confronted by armed neighbors and fled the scene.
According her Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, Danielle Kelley (nee Danielle Lee Shields), Devin’s wife of three years (her profile status lists her as married in April 2014), served as a vacation Bible school teacher at First Baptist Church from 2008 until 2013. Her mother, Michelle Shields, is listed as a member of the church and is seen in several Facebook photos with Sherri Pomeroy, the wife of the church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and in photos and a Facebook video with Annabelle Pomeroy, the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter, who was killed in Sunday’s massacre.
Sherri and Frank Pomeroy were out of town in different states at the time of the shooting, and the service was led by a guest pastor.
At a press conference Monday morning, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Freeman Martin confirmed that Devin Kelley’s mother-in-law was a member of the church, and revealed that the gunman had “expressed anger towards his mother-in-law.”
“This was not racially motivated. It wasn’t over religious beliefs,” Martin said.
“We can tell you there was a domestic situation going on within this family,” he continued. “The suspect’s mother-in-law attended this church. We know that there were threatening texts from him.”
Martin said it’s not clear whether she had previously disclosed the threatening texts to law enforcement.
The connections between the suspected gunman’s in-laws and the the First Baptist Church, and the suspect’s angry texts, offer the first clues about a motive for the shooting.
In television interviews earlier Monday, Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said that Kelley’s in-laws weren’t at the church when the shooting occurred, but that they attended services there “from time to time.”
Tackitt said that while it’s clear the small-town congregation was the gunman’s target, authorities have yet to establish a concrete motive.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that Devin Kelley was discharged from the Air Force in 2014 for allegedly assaulting his spouse and child two years before.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott acknowledged there may have been a link between the gunman and the church, saying the public would likely be informed of such a connection “in a few days.”
“I don’t think this was just a random act of violence,” Abbott said. “Law enforcement is looking very aggressively into this.”