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Family who lost 9 in Sutherland Springs shooting files lawsuit against U.S. government

Bryan and Karla Holcombe. The couple was killed in the Sutherland Springs massacre. Their pregnant daughter, Crystal, and three of her children, were also killed, as were two more relatives. (Photo courtesy of family)

A family who lost nine members in the Sutherland Springs church shooting officially filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the United States Air Force's failure to submit information to the FBI that would have prevented shooter Devin Kelley from buying a gun.

On Friday, attorney Rob Ammons announced he filed the lawsuit on behalf of Joe 'Papa Joe' Holcombe and his wife Claryce. Six months ago, they filed a notice of claim, asked the Air Force for answers in the matter.

In a statement, Ammons says the federal government did not properly respond to the notice, instead only asking for more information from the family. Now, the federal government will have 27 days to respond to the lawsuit.

The couple lost their son, Bryan Holcombe, who was leading the congregation on November 5 when the shooter walked into the First Baptist Church and opened fire. Bryan's wife, Karla, their son Danny and his daughter Noah, pregnant daughter-in-law Crystal, and her three children, Greg Hill, Megan Hill and Emily Hill were killed.

Lawyers for the Holcombe family say if the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense had properly submitted information about Devin Kelley's convictions and 'bad conduct' discharge, he would have been unable to purchase the Ruger Semi-Automatic AR-5d6 rifle that he used in the massacre. Additionally, if the information had been entered into federal databases, as required by federal law, the Holcombe family believes other police agencies would have been alerted to Kelley's behavior during past criminal incidents involving the shooter.

Ammons says the store where Kelley bought the gun ran a background check on him twice. He passed both checks.

"Under a 1996 law preventing spouse and child abusers from possessing firearms, the service’s Office of Special Investigations should have entered that conviction into an FBI database,” says the family’s attorney Rob Ammons. "The office didn’t, the Air Force has admitted. What’s more, the acts Kelley pleaded guilty to - breaking his baby stepson’s skull and hitting and kicking his then-wife - were punishable by imprisonment of more than a year. That qualifies them as felonies, which must be entered into the database.”

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