Murder — Again — Still

That’s Devin Patrick Kelley, and First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

We’re still not sure why he opened fire on the folks gathered for worship yesterday morning. At the moment, it looks like he was in a snit because he’d been arguing with his former wife and in-laws.

That doesn’t mean I think we should ban marriage because it leads to mass murder. That makes about as much sense as my SADIST proposal. (November 6, 2017)

On the other hand, I’m already reading sloganeering for — I’ll talk about that another day.

Whatever his goal, Mr. Kelley killed 26, wounded 20, before deciding to leave the church.

Death and Lost Hopes

Sutherland Springs is an unincorporated community approximately 21 miles, 34 kilometers east of downtown San Antonio, Texas. It was home for 362 folks in 2000. Given its location and status, the population is probably still close to that value.

The youngest victim was 18 months old. The oldest 77 years.

I weep for their surviving friends and family — which in places like Sutherland Springs is most of the town. It’s possible that they ‘weren’t important,’ and would have made little obvious impact on world affairs.

But now the dead adults cannot support their community, passing along what experience and wisdom they’ve gained.

A few of them might have made an obvious contribution to their state, nation, or world.

The dead children will not continue their family’s and neighbor’s work.

One of them might have become the man or woman remembered a thousand years from now as the the United American States’ first coordinator.

We don’t know, and now we never will.

It’s even possible that Devin Patrick Kelley would have contributed something: apart from being another example of how not to use our freedom.

He’s dead now, too.

If Sutherland Springs is like small communities in my part of the world, folks living there weren’t expecting a lethal attack Sunday morning.

That may explain how Mr. Kelley managed to get into his car by the time a few folks who hadn’t been in the church responded.

It is possible that his death was self-inflicted, or the result of excessive speed and inadequate control of his car.

However, Mr. Kelley used his personal telephone to contact his father. He reported that he had been shot by someone, and was probably going to die.

That seems quite likely, since at least some of the citizens responding to the incident had heard shots fired.

Ideally, perhaps, they would have stopped to verify that the vehicle speeding away through their town was connected with the bloodbath.

At that point, again ideally, they would have communicated with the nearest available law enforcement personnel, and turned further action over to duly-appointed officials.

That’s not what happened. Sutherland Springs is a small town. I haven’t learned details of their town’s government services.

My experience with similar communities here in the upper Midwest suggests that the local government might quite small.

They might have someone employed at least part time to handle the inevitable state and national paperwork.

It is possible that they have someone serving as the local police department, but maybe not. That wouldn’t mean that they’re “lawless.” Just not big enough to support the massive government agencies my country’s major cities have.

My guess is that most of the folks are related to most of their neighbors.

The place I call home is roughly ten times the size of Sutherland Springs. But I was related to about half the folks here when we moved back to my wife’s home town.

She was part of one of the two families living here. Big extended families. Times change.

Quite a few new families moved in since then. I don’t mind. Maybe some do, but I figure most of us think it’s okay. Or, in my case, a good thing. I think new neighbors bring new ideas: maybe better than what we had before.

Making Sense

As it was, some folks in Sutherland Springs heard shots fired.

They saw a car speeding away from dead and dying bodies. They returned fire, from their viewpoint.

My guess is that when officials sort out witness testimony and physical evidence, they’ll learn that at least one of the first responders fatally wounded Mr. Kelley. [It now appears that the murderer committed suicide. It’s complicated. See Updated, below.]

Ideally — we don’t live in an ideal world.

Folks in Sutherland were dealing with about a twelfth of their kin and neighbors dead or dying, and someone fleeing the scene.

The fool may even have shot at them. At least one report said that.

Killing a twelfth a community and getting spotted is bad enough.

Doing it in a small Texas town is pretty close to suicidal.

Shooting at folks who weren’t even wounded, and missing — — —

That’s stark, raving, mad. Unless one’s goal is getting killed.

I do not think, given what I’ve read, that folks returning fire acted with excessive force.

It’s possible that Mr. Kelley had achieved his goals, and planned on relaxing for the rest of the day.

It’s also possible that whoever killed him saved the lives of many more folks.

I don’t know which direction Mr. Kelley was going, but San Antonio was nearby. “Nearby” by my standards. I grew up on the Minnesota-North Dakota border, so anywhere less than about an hour away is “close.”

Sorrow, Not Sympathy

I am sorry that Mr. Kelley is dead. I’d better explain that.

I don’t feel sorry for him, at all.

I am still angry about his decision to murder more that two dozen folks.

No matter how upset he was, or how noble he thought he was being, there is no excuse for murder.

Murder is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. I’ve got more than anger and sadness as my reasons for thinking that’s true.

Human life is sacred. Each of us is created in the image of God. The divine image is in each of us; no matter who we are, who our ancestors are, or what we’ve done. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 357, 361, 369370, 1700, 1730, 1929, 22732274, 22762279)

Murder, deliberately killing an innocent person, is wrong. (Catechism, 22682269)

Maybe Mr. Kelley was legally insane. That doesn’t make murder okay. It may affect what we decide to do with a person who commits murder.

But taking an innocent human life is still wrong. Always.

Thinking that’s true doesn’t mean I’m judgmental.

I’m human, so there’d be something wrong if I didn’t try to tell the difference between good and evil behavior.

What I do after I have reached an (I hope) reasoned conclusion: that’s something else.

Judgment, Love, and Reason

Judging whether an act is good or bad is a basic requirement for being human. It’s part of using my conscience. I’m even expected to think about the actions of others. (Catechism, 1778, 24012449)

Sin isn’t just about me and God. I’m not loving my neighbor if I see nothing wrong with someone hurting my neighbor. (Catechism, 2196)

The trick is hating the sin, loving the sinner: and leaving the judging of persons to God. (Catechism, 1861)

What I do with my life, and the lives of those around me, is up to me: for good or ill. (Catechism, 17011709, 2258)

All human life is sacred, but taking action which results in an attacker’s death can be legitimate defense. (Catechism, 22632267)

‘I thought he was going to kill me, so I killed him first’ is not how legitimate defense works. (January 22, 2017)

There’s a lot left in my notes. Partly what happened in Texas, partly how folks are reacting, and partly about Hammurabi’s law code.

I’ll get to that, probably. At the moment, I’ve got our granddaughter visiting. #2 daughter and son-in-law, too. Also the evening meal is coming up.

This may not be a good place to stop, but it’s where I will.


Update (10:05 p.m. November 6 in Minnesota/ 2017-11-07T04:05 UTC)

A regional (Texas) news outlet reported additional information about the Sunday morning incident.

The overall situation is still the same. More than two dozen people are dead, including the murderer who killed the others.

It turns out that reporters who said that the murderer had been shot, and that his death was self-induced were both correct.

Here’s some of what I found in a ‘what we know so far’ piece in The Austin American-Statesman. There’s a link to the article at the end of this summary.

Stephen Willeford is the “bystander” who exchanged gunfire with the killer. Or fired at an armed, armored, and dangerous murderer. That’s still being sorted out.

Considering the carnage that had recently been committed, I think trying to stop the murderer from continuing with his planned Sunday activities was a reasonable decision.

Willeford had heard shots fired, but it was his daughter who drove to the church to get additional information. She returned, telling her father that there was a shooting in progress at the church.

Willeford then removed an AR-15 from a safe, grabbed ammunition, and ran — barefoot — to the church.

He exchanged fire with the murderer, who left after a bullet detached his body armor’s front and back sections. Several of the murder’s wounds were from that confrontation. The fatal injury was self-inflicted later.

Details of what happened from the time someone murdered a couple dozen Baptists and the murderer’s own death have not been officially confirmed. Or sorted out.

It’s a very complex situation. Folks in Sutherland Springs were most likely focusing more on making life-or-death decisions, than taking detailed notes for the benefit of reporters and/or campaigners for some daft cause.

One of the details which has apparently not yet been settled is whether or not the murderer fired at Mr. Willeford.

The killer’s body has been transferred to another county for autopsy. The pathologist has not yet filed an official ruling. Preliminary results indicate that he killed himself.

Confrontations with the murderer were probably more complicated.

One account says that after an armed confrontation at the church, another citizen had chased the fleeing killer — probably on foot — until passing a parked car.

At that point the pursuer informed the car’s driver of the situation, recommending that the driver continue pursuit.

Additional reports say that more shots were fired at the killer’s vehicle after that point.

As I said earlier, only a fool or someone determined to be killed would consider attacking folks at a small town church in Texas. Not on foot, not without assembling fire teams first.

What reason, if any, the murder had for his actions is still unknown. It still seems likely that he was upset after an argument with his ex-wife and in-laws. This may have led him to attack the church.

It is plausible, given the irrationally self-centered mindset sometimes implied in similar actions. But it is speculation.

What is fact is that a great many people are now dead, who were alive Sunday morning.

We’re learning more about the dead worshipers.

Some families died together.

Quite a few dead children were under their equally-dead parents. A reasonable assumption is that the parents had been trying to protect their children with the only shield available: their bodies. I think they died well.

One of the bodies in the church had been a woman. Her not-yet-born child is dead, too, of course. I don’t know if that child will be included in the official death list. My nation is still learning that all humans are people. But we are, I think, learning. Slowly.

Late Monday morning, six of the 20 wounded were in stable condition. Four were still listed in serious condition. 10 more were in critical condition.

The murderer had been in the U.S. Air Force. He was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child. He later earned a bad conduct discharge.


As I said earlier, telling the difference between good and evil should be part of being human. I am quite certain that murdering those folks was a bad thing to do.

I do not know what happens to the murderer now. He is dead, beyond the jurisdiction of American courts. It is nearly certain that he killed himself, although he might have required medical treatment after encountering still-active neighbors of his victims.

I discussed a similar situation after the killings in Las Vegas. (October 2, 2017)

I am quite certain that murder is something we should not do.

Committing suicide is also very far from being a good idea.

However, declaring the damnation of someone who committed suicide is pointless, at best.

My rap sheet is uncomfortably long as it is. Telling God how someone else should be judged would not be prudent. I’ve read Matthew 6:14157:15. And that’s another topic.


Posts I thought of while writing this:

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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