On Sunday, Devin Kelley shot dead at least 26 people at a small Baptist church in Texas, using a military-style rifle. Among those he killed were Crystal Holcombe, a mum who was eight months pregnant, and Rylan Ward, a five-year-old boy. Rylan was shot four times.
Five years ago, Kelley, while in the Air Force, was court-martialled over the assault of his wife and baby stepson.
“He assaulted his stepson severely enough that he fractured his skull, and he also assaulted his wife,” Don Christensen, a retired colonel who was the chief prosecutor for the Air Force, told The New York Times. “He pled to intentionally doing it.”
Kelley was sentenced to 12 months’ in custody. After that, he was given a bad-conduct discharge from the military.
He married again and lived in a trailer park. Another resident at the park, Susan, tells the Times that he had a pit bull puppy he kept tied up in the sun all day. Once, when he hit the puppy in the head, someone called the police, and there was a stand-off, as Kelley refused to come out of his trailer.
Kelley was charged with cruelty to animals in 2014, but the case was dismissed.
Too often, after this kind of shooting, the arguments become solely about guns. And the number of guns in the US is a massive issue. But we also need to dig a bit more deeply and ask more questions.
Is one year in jail enough punishment for someone who assaults his spouse and breaks their baby’s skull?
Are violent offenders like this undergoing any kind of treatment programs in jail?
How is it that someone with a history of violence can buy a military-style weapon?
Time and time again, we read this tragic story. A man violently assaults his partner or members of his family. That assault doesn’t result in a long jail term. The man has access to weapons, and goes on to kill multiple people.
Man Haron Monis, the man behind the Lindt café siege, had been accused of more than 40 sexual assaults and had been charged with being an accessory to his ex-wife’s murder.
Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, repeatedly beat his first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, during their short marriage.
Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who murdered more than 80 people by driving a truck into a crowd in Nice, had a long history of violent behaviour towards his wife and family members.
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An analysis of crime carried out in Washington State showed that a domestic violence conviction was the greatest single predictor of future violent crime among men.
“Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first,” wrote Pamela Shifman and Salamisah Tillet in The New York Times. “Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions.”
There’s quibbling in the US media over whether Kelley legally obtained his military-style rifle. Apparently, when buying the rifle from a sporting goods store last year, he checked a box to say he didn’t have any disqualifying criminal history.
We need to keep asking questions.