After visiting the site of last weekend’s church massacre outside San Antonio, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday it was a “crime” that the gunman was able to buy guns while having a military domestic violence conviction.
The U.S. Air Force is “moving aggressively” to review its policies on reporting convictions to national criminal databases, and plans to report back in a matter of “days, not weeks,” Pence said at a televised news conference outside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.
The gunman, Devin Kelley — who killed 26 churchgoers — passed background checks to buy four guns between 2014 and 2017 despite being court-martialed by the Air Force a few years earlier — an oversight that Air Force officials have attributed to a bureaucratic error.
“We will find why this information was not properly recorded in 2012, and we will work with leaders in Congress to ensure that this never happens again,” Pence said, adding that military officials were working to make sure national criminal databases were not missing other military convicts.
Pence added of Kelley’s gun purchases: “He lied on his application, had a history of mental illness, and there were bureaucratic failures.”
Pence and his wife, Karen, arrived Wednesday to console victims’ families and greet the two bystanders who shot the gunman and chased him out of the small town outside San Antonio, and who Pence said “undoubtedly saved lives.”
Pence met victims being treated at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and emerged looking somber.
“This evil must come to an end in this land,” Pence said of the shooting, adding, “Faith is stronger than evil.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described meeting one young victim who was shot in the spinal cord exactly where Abbott suffered his own spinal injury. Abbott, who uses a wheelchair, said he told the victim’s mother, “You know, one day, he may grow up to be governor.”
“The reality is, yes, there have been tremendous tragedies,” said Abbott, a Republican, but Texans “stepped up” to meet another challenge after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the state over the summer. “When Texas faces a tragedy, Texans come together and respond profoundly.”
Pence also planned to attend a prayer vigil at a local high school Wednesday night.
Some in Sutherland Springs and the surrounding towns don't want all the attention they've been getting, however. The town, which has just a few hundred residents, has been overwhelmed by reporters and news crews who flew in from around the nation to cover the attack, which was Texas’ deadliest mass shooting in modern history.
Sheryl Ramsey, 43, lost her mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law in the shooting, she said.
She lives in the neighboring town of La Vernia, down the street from the home of Therese and Richard Rodriguez, who were among those killed.
Ramsey’s family didn’t want to line up to shake Pence's hand, she said, and she doesn't think Therese and Richard would have wanted this attention either. Her family is trying to avoid the hordes of media and politicians who have descended on their community.
“We don’t want all of that," she said on the phone Wednesday, her voice breaking. "We just want to be able to process all of this and figure out how to move forward, so.… We’re just trying to stay out of limelight.”