Judge orders U.S. to pay more than $230 million to Texas church shooting victims

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal judge ordered the U.S. government to pay slightly more than $230 million to survivors and family members of victims of a 2017 mass shooting at a Texas church that killed 26 people.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled seven months after finding the government 60% responsible https://www.reuters.com/world/us/judge-finds-us-government-60-responsible-2017-texas-church-mass-shooting-2021-07-07 for the Nov. 5, 2017, massacre by former Air Force airman Devin Patrick Kelley at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

"The losses and pain these families have experienced is immeasurable," wrote Rodriguez, who works in San Antonio, Texas.

Kelley, whom the judge found 40% responsible, used firearms he should not have been allowed to buy after admitting in a 2012 court martial to domestic assault. The Air Force had failed to enter that plea in a database used for background checks.

In addition to those killed, 22 people were injured when Kelley, 26, dressed in black and wearing a skull mask, opened fire at a Sunday service at the church, 31 miles (50 km) east of San Antonio.

He later died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head following a police chase.

In his 185-page decision, Rodriguez rejected what he called the government's effort to "obfuscate its responsibility" by adopting a "no-fault" approach to damages similar to that used to compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Monday's decision covered about 80 claimants, most of whom were awarded money.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said it was aware of the awards and reviewing the decision.

In December 2018, a government report said the Air Force had missed six chances to alert law enforcement about Kelley's history of domestic abuse.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)