A former Air Force colleague of the man who killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, has come forward with disturbing details about the shooter.
Jessika Edwards told CNN that she and Devin Kelley worked together at Hollomon Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 to 2012. Kelley was released from the military on a bad-conduct discharge in 2014 after serving time for assaulting his wife and stepson.
Edwards said that when the two made contact on Facebook in 2014, Kelley said he had been purchasing dogs through Craigslist and then using them for “target practice.” While in the Air Force, she said, Kelley was preoccupied with mass murders and made jokes about killing people.
Edwards clarified that she didn’t know for sure if Kelley’s claim about shooting dogs was true, but the statement prompted her to cut off contact with him.
The U.S. Air Force confirmed that Edwards and Kelley served at the base at the same time, but not whether they worked together directly, according to CNN.
In 2014, the same year he allegedly made the gruesome claim to Edwards, Kelley was cited for cruelty to animals in El Paso County, Colorado. Multiple witnesses said they saw Kelley beating a husky with his fists before dragging the dog away by the neck, The Denver Post reported. The county sheriff who responded to the incident noted back then that it seemed like Kelley was underfeeding the dog.
A woman who was his neighbor at the time told The New York Times that she remembers Kelley keeping his dog tied up outside in the sun with no water.
Kelley also had a history of domestic violence. The assaults that resulted in his Air Force discharge included striking his toddler stepson “severely enough that he fractured his skull,” according to the Times. And the Sutherland Springs massacre occurred after Kelley had sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended that church.
Experts say that both cruelty to animals and domestic violence can be predictors of other forms of violence.
Most mass shootings in the United States, many of which never make national news, involve domestic violence. Kelley’s military conviction should have prevented him from legally buying a gun, but the Air Force failed to record it in a federal database.
In recent years, there’s also been greater consensus among animal advocates, social workers and law enforcement that animal abuse is often an indicator of future violence toward humans.
“People need to understand that it is never just the dog,” forensic veterinarian Martha Smith-Blackmore told HuffPost in 2015.
Animal cruelty and violence toward people can even be directly intertwined. Domestic violence victims often report that their abusers also threatened to harm or kill the victims’ pets. A 1998 survey in New Jersey found that among homes where child abuse had occurred, 88 percent also had incidents of animal abuse.
In 2015, driven by the evidence of a strong link between violence toward animals and people, the FBI began collecting data on animal cruelty though its National Incident-Based Reporting System. This allows the FBI to analyze potential trends in animal abuse and how they might relate to other types of crime.
But that doesn’t mean that all state and local law enforcement agencies around the country are taking animal cruelty more seriously. A January 2017 report from the Animal Legal Defense Fund found that some states still fail to mandate mental health evaluations or counseling for animal cruelty offenders or to require someone convicted of animal cruelty to give up their animals.