The Justice Department has reached a tentative $144.5 million settlement with victims of the deadly 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The agreement comes five years after more than 80 relatives of the shooting’s victims and survivors filed suit against the U.S. Air Force following the branch’s failure to report gunman Devin Kelley’s history of violence to the FBI’s background check system, according to the San Antonio Express-News and The Washington Post. The settlement will have to be approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland before becoming official.
Kelley, who died by suicide after the shooting, had been discharged from the Air Force in 2014 due to his propensity for violence, the Express-News reported. He was previously convicted of domestic violence after injuring his infant stepson and served a year in jail, according to the newspaper.
Twenty-six people, including an unborn child, died when Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, authorities said. More than 20 others were injured.
“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” Associated Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”
Jamal Alsaffar, the lead attorney for the victims, urged Garland to quickly approve the settlement “to bring some closure to these families,” according to NBC News.
“It’s the least they deserve,” he said.
In July 2021, a judge found the Air Force to be 60% responsible for the shooting because it failed to provide records that could have kept Kelley from getting the weapons he used in the 2017 attack, NBC News reported. Authorities were ordered to pay victims $230 million but the government appealed, arguing that it could not be more liable for Kelley’s actions than Kelley himself, according to NPR.
Earlier, lawyers for the victims and relatives proposed the case be settled for $418 million while the government suggested a $32 million settlement, The Associated Press reported.
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