The U.S. Justice Department has announced an agreement in principle to settle the civil cases arising out of the tragic November 2017 mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 worshippers and injured 22 others.
Under the terms of the settlement, the government will pay the victims $144.5 million.
This comes after a federal court in 2021 ruled the U.S. government was liable for damages caused by the shooting. The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, was a former member of the Air Force. The Air Force acknowledged after the shooting that it failed to relay Kelley’s court-martial conviction for domestic assault to civilian law enforcement.
Prosecutors argued the move could have prevented Kelley from purchasing the firearms he used.
Now, members of the church have had a massive victory. According to the Department of Justice, these tentative settlements will resolve claims by more than 75 plaintiffs arising out of the shooting. Plaintiffs’ claims alleged that the Air Force was negligent when it failed to transmit to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) information about the shooter that would have prevented him from purchasing guns from a federally licensed firearms dealer.
A federal district court in Texas concluded that the United States was liable for damages caused by the shooting. This tentative settlement would resolve the pending appeals.
The agreement in principle would settle all claims for a total of $144.5 million. The settlement agreement has been approved, subject to the plaintiffs’ securing the required court approvals. Under applicable law, a court must approve some aspects of the settlements.
“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”
In March 2019, a year and a half after a massacre that claimed the lives of 26 people, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs opened its doors to a brand new sanctuary.
In addition to the new structure, the church site development also includes enhanced security measures so that its growing congregation feels safe during worship. “We don’t want to look like a fortress, but also wanted to make sure that everybody could feel safe on the inside,” Pomeroy explained.