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Department of Justice tentatively reaches Texas church shooting settlement

A memorial for the victims of the shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church (Eric Gay/AP)
Paul J Webber, Associated Press

The Justice Department said it has tentatively settled a lawsuit over the 2017 mass shooting at a Texas church that will pay victims and their families more than 144 million dollars (£116 million).

More than two dozen people were killed when Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire during a Sunday service at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

Kelley, who died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was shot and chased by two men who heard the gunfire at the church, had served in the Air Force prior to the attack.

Authorities put the official death toll at 26 because one of the 25 people killed was pregnant.

US District Judge Xavier Rodriguez had previously ruled that the Air Force was “60% liable” for the attack because it failed to submit Kelley’s assault conviction during his time in the Air Force to a national database.

The Justice Department said the settlement is still subject to court approvals.

A lawyer for Sutherland Springs families did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” said Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general for the Justice Department, in a statement.

“Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”

Kelley had served nearly five years in the Air Force before being discharged in 2014 for bad conduct, after he was convicted of assaulting a former wife and stepson, cracking the child’s skull.

The Air Force has publicly acknowledged that the conviction for domestic violence, had it been put into the FBI database, could have prevented Kelley from buying guns from licensed firearms dealers, and also from possessing body armour.

Mr Rodriguez said in 2021 that had the government done its job and entered Kelley’s history into the database, “it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting”.