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'I'll Be Right Back,' Texas Church Gunman Told Family Before Killing 26

"We all have our demons," Devin Kelley's wife, Danielle, says. "No matter what, I will love him. Even though he went off and ruined more people's lives than I could ever imagine."



By JB Nicholas

On the November morning before he shot 26 people to death in a small-town Texas church, Devin Kelley tied his wife to their bed and told their crying 2-year-old boy not to worry. "I'll be right back," he said.

Danielle Kelley disclosed these new details, and others, to the San Antonio Express-News. Restrained to the bed with rope, handcuffs and duct tape, she told the newspaper she watched in horror as Devin strapped on a bullet-proof vest and left with two handguns and a semi-automatic Ruger 556 rifle.

"You get a sense of what's going to happen," Danielle said. "Because no one just leaves in all-black attire with a ballistic vest."

Kelley went to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and killed 25 people, more than half of whom were children. One of the victims was pregnant, bringing the final death toll to 26. He also wounded 20 others, before fleeing and killing himself after being pursued by two men, one of whom was armed, the Associated Press later reported.

"We all have our demons," Danielle says. "No matter what, I will love him. Even though he went off and ruined more people's lives than I could ever imagine." 

Danielle told the San Antonio Express News that she and Kelley met while hanging out with mutual friends, when he was 17 and she was 13. At the time, she said, she had a streak of bleached blonde hair and marks on her wrists and legs from cutting herself. They shared the same birthday.

"I was like 'Oh man, this guy's cute. I'm a dweeb.' We just talked and hung out and then we got really close. And then it came to where Devin knew everything about me," she said.

One of the secrets Danielle shared with Devin was the sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of a male relative.

"I built up a lot of stuff and I had a lot of issues from it. To the point where I don't really like men," Danielle said. Kelley was the only person she told about the abuse, she said.

Conversely, Kelley told her about bullying he allgedly suffered as a child -- bonding the two together with a potent psychic glue of shame, trust, loyalty and, eventually, love.

"We had no secrets," Danielle said. "He only ever kept one from me."


After high school, Kelley joined the Air Force and married another woman.

Still, Danielle said, they corresponded through letters. Then Kelley was court-martialed for fracturing his stepson’s skull. He served a year in the stockade, as military prisons are called, before being dishonorably discharged from the military. He later divorced his first wife.

Devin and Danielle married in April 2014 -- he was 23 and she 19.

The couple got a place together in Sutherland Springs, about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio. Six months before the church killings, Danielle said Kelley became depressed and reclusive, more angry and less patient. They had no friends. He accompanied her everywhere. 

"He was slowly becoming not the person that he was," Danielle said. "He was shutting down."

Then in April 2016 -- two years after they were married -- Kelley bought the Ruger 556, an assault-style rifle and, eventually, more than a dozen large capacity magazines capable of holding 30 rounds of ammunition each.

The Air Force had failed to report Devin's domestic violence conviction to the FBI, as they should have according to Pentagon regulations, which could have prevented him from buying a gun.

During this time, Danielle said, she was sometimes able to persuade Kelley to go to church, including the one he would eventually shoot up -- First Baptist in Sutherland Springs. But, she said, he laughed during sermons and then said he was an atheist.

“Devin was sick. He lost who he was. Because the real Devin would’ve never hurt babies. He was a family person. He would never have hurt anybody. He lost touch of reality,” Danielle said.

Less than an hour after leaving Danielle tied to their bed on Nov. 5, 2017, Kelley began firing his rifle into the First Baptist Church, as congregants were singing “Are You Washed In Blood?”

First Baptist was also the same church attended by Kelley's mother-in-law and authorities said Kelley had sent her angry text messages before the shooting. She wasn't in the church at the time of the attack.

“Everybody die!” Kelley is reported as saying when he entered the church, firing and reloading, firing and reloading. All told, police say, Kelley fired at least 450 rounds.

Stephen Willeford heard the shots and charged toward the church, shoeless but armed with his own semi-automatic rifle -- an AR-15.

Engaging Kelley, the NRA-certified firearms instructor wounded him, causing him to flee in an SUV. Willeford flagged down a passing motorist, Johnnie Langendorff, and together they chased Kelley down and forced him off the road.

As he lay bleeding, Kelley called Danielle -- who had been freed by Devin’s parents -- who put the call on speaker.

“I just shot up the Sutherland Springs church,” Danielle recalled him saying.  “I’ve killed so many people — so, so many people,” he added. “He kept saying how sorry he was.”

Then Kelley said he wasn’t going to make it home, that he loved them. After they told him they loved him too, the call ended, Devin Kelley put one of his pistols to his head, and pulled the trigger, one last time.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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