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Survivors recount horror of Texas church shooting: 'He shot anyone who got in the way'

Joaquin Ramirez and Rosanne Solis walked into First Baptist Church on Sunday just minutes before the shots began to ring out.

Ramirez, 50, and Solis, 57, a longtime couple who live in First Baptist’s neighborhood, were sitting in their usual spot — fourth row on the left side — at the small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people were killed Sunday morning and another 20 were injured.

>> Texas church shooting: 8 relatives, pastor's daughter among victims of shooting

The couple had arrived around 11 a.m., when the service began. The church band had played at least one worship song, and church members were beginning weekly announcements. People were still greeting each other, hugging and waving toward one another.

Then Solis and Ramirez heard what sounded like firecrackers.

“That’s when the shots started,” Solis said. “Everybody started running and screaming.”

>> Devin Patrick Kelley: What we know about Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooter

The first shots appeared to be coming from the roof, Solis and Ramirez said.

Suddenly, Ramirez felt heat rush up his left ankle. Solis felt the same, but on her left arm. They both dropped to the ground. Ramirez draped his body on top of Solis.

A second round of shots banged from above, then Ramirez and Solis heard First Baptist’s front doors open. The shooter, now identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, was inside.

>> Texas church shooting: Gunman previously escaped mental health center

He yelled that everyone was going to die, Solis said, and started shooting again.

“I could see his feet moving,” Solis said. “He shot anyone who got in the way. Even babies. It didn’t matter.”

Kelley moved down the middle aisle of the two rows of seating at the church, picking off person by person.

He approached the stage and shot there, too, Ramirez said. At that moment, Ramirez crawled toward the front doors and escaped. He ran to find police.

>> Texas church shooting: Air Force admits it failed to report Devin Kelley's past crimes

Inside, Solis tried to play dead underneath one of the church pews. She opened her eyes briefly and saw blood around her.

After Kelley had shot everyone at the stage, he appeared to move back toward the church doors, Solis said. He continued to fire.

After a few minutes, he appeared to run out of ammunition, Solis said. He dropped two rifles on the ground, she said, and ran out.

Solis was too afraid to move.

“I heard silence,” she said. “Then I heard screaming. Children were screaming. People were screaming.”

>> On Statesman.com: Complete coverage of the Texas church shooting

Solis slowly rose. She looked to her left and saw a young boy on his stomach. He wasn’t moving. She looked behind her and saw a man splattered with blood, his arms waved behind him and his head tilted back. In front of her, a man holding a little girl screamed through tears.

Dozens of people lay on the ground.

“I thought Joaquin was dead,” Solis said.

She picked up her shoes, which had fallen off, slipped them on and walked outside. Police and medical personnel would soon arrive. It had only been about half an hour since service began.

Solis could hardly think straight.

>> Read more trending news 

Later, as she was getting treated for the shot that pierced her left arm, she saw Ramirez approaching her.

Both couldn’t believe that each other had survived.

“We felt nothing but joy,” Ramirez said. “We were alive.”

Dad, stepmom accused of starving 6-year-old to death, withholding food as punishment

A 6-year-old Illinois boy died last week after suffering severe starvation and neglect from his father and stepmother, authorities said. He reportedly weighed only 17 pounds when he died.

According to police, the boy’s father, Michael Roberts, and the boy’s stepmother, Georgena Roberts, both 42 years old, deprived the boy and another child of food “as a form of punishment.”

>> On Rare.us: Parents accused of leaving their disabled daughter in an unacceptable condition for years

On Friday night, police responded to a call from a hospital in the southern Illinois community of Jerseyville regarding a dead child who had been brought to the hospital by his father, according to the Jersey County state’s attorney’s office.

According to the criminal complaint, Georgena and Michael Roberts “knowingly and intentionally caused (the boy) to become extremely malnourished, leaving the said 6-year-old child … to starve to death.” The complaint details allegations that the couple "withheld food and nourishment on a regular and consistent basis” beginning around December 2015.

>> Read more trending news 

The preliminary autopsy results indicate that the cause of death was “extreme malnourishment.” Toxicology and other tests are pending, The Associated Press reported.

The couple is also facing a felony count of child endangerment and a misdemeanor count of child endangerment for their treatment of their 6-year-old son. The judge set their bail at $500,000 each, so they remained in custody Tuesday.

>> On Rare.us: Parents accused of keeping son locked in a room with no plumbing

Police say the boy had three siblings and two step-siblings who lived with him in the same house in Jerseyville. All of the surviving children were taken into protective custody by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Attorneys for Michael and Georgena Roberts have not responded to requests for comment.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Texas church shooting: Gunman previously escaped mental health center

The man who gunned down dozens of churchgoers gathered Sunday at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, previously escaped from a mental health facility in New Mexico in what was believed to be an attempt to make good on threats made against his superiors in the U.S. Air Force, according to a police incident report.

>> Read more trending news

The report was obtained by KPRC and published Tuesday.

El Paso police were called on June 7, 2012, after Devin Patrick Kelley, then 21 years old, escaped from the Peak Behavioral Health Services facility in Saint Teresa, New Mexico, according to the report. He was later found at a bus terminal and taken into custody without incident.

A witness told police that Kelley "suffered from mental disorders and had plans to run from Peak Behavioral Health Services ... and take a bus out of state."

The witness warned police that Kelley was a believed to be a danger to himself and others.

"He had already been caught sneaking fire arms onto Hollaman Airforce base," the incident report said. The witness told police that Kelley "was attempting to carry out death threats that (he) had made on his military chain of command."

Kelley was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in 2012.

Citing Air Force records, The New York Times reported Monday that Kelley pleaded guilty in 2012 to assaulting his wife and intentionally breaking his infant stepson's skull. 

The newspaper reported that Kelley was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement and reduction to the lowest possible rank. After his release, he received a bad-conduct discharge from the military.

>> Related: Texas church shooting: 8 relatives, pastor's daughter among victims of shooting

Investigators said that Sunday’s attack came after Kelley sent threats to his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended First Baptist Church. She was not at the church when Kelley opened fire, authorities said.

Those slain in Sunday’s shooting included eight members of a single family. Investigators said those killed ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years old.

Man gunned down in robbery attempt day after returning from honeymoon

A Kentucky man was shot to death in front of his new wife Sunday, the day after the couple returned home from their honeymoon. 

Jason Spencer, 30, of Louisville, married his wife, Andrea, on Oct. 27, according to his Facebook page. Nine days later, he was dead.

WDRB in Louisville reported that Spencer and his wife were walking in the city’s Cherokee Triangle Historic District when they were approached by two young men. Shots were fired during a confrontation, and Spencer was killed.

Police found one of the accused, a 15-year-old boy, with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound in another part of the city late Sunday night, the news station reported. He was taken into custody by officers, but it was not immediately clear if charges had been filed against the teen. 

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported Tuesday that Spencer was carrying a gun of his own and returned fire during the altercation. Investigators were still looking for the second young man. 

A photo was posted Sunday to Spencer’s Facebook page that appeared to show him and his wife wearing their wedding rings at Disney World. Bride and groom Mickey Mouse ears sat on top of a sign that read, “We are just getting started.”

“This may not have been true in the sense that Walt Disney meant it, but it is certainly true for Jason, (whose) faith was and is in the Lord,” a friend commented on the post Monday, after Spencer’s death. 

Spencer had a vivid social media presence, including as creator of the Louisville Humor Twitter account, the Courier-Journal reported. 

Spencer worked at Humana, which is headquartered in Louisville, as well as working part time at social media engagement company 520 East Brands, where he served as managing director of strategy. 

“We are all just devastated,” Shane Shaps, founder of 520 East Brands, told the newspaper. “He was a genius and a gem.”

>> Read more trending news

Officials at Humana released a statement Monday saying how much they would miss Spencer.

“Jason Spencer had an ever-engaging smile, can-do attitude and commitment to improving Humana for everyone we serve,” the statement read, according to WDRB. “He worked for Humana for more than seven years, and was well-known across the organization as an innovator with our social media team, leading the Humana Advocates Program and our customer social care strategy. Jason was also a sought-after voice within the social media industry. We will miss him, and we are holding his family in our thoughts.”

Jeff Ross, a friend and coworker at Humana, shared his thoughts during a vigil held Monday night in Spencer’s honor, WAVE3 News reported

“(I) just went over and stood at his desk and stared,” Ross said, according to the news station. “It was just impossible to comprehend, because we had been following all of their joyous travels last week celebrating their honeymoon together.”

Ross said that Spencer was an active member of his church, Sojourn Community Church, and part of a missionary group. It was in that group that he met his future wife, now his widow. 

Sojourn Community Church leaders also released a statement Monday, in which they described Spencer as a longtime, faithful member.

“He loved life and lived it to the full,” the statement obtained by WDRB read. “He was full of joy, quick to help and serve others. Jason was a faithful friend to many. He was a strong Christian who exemplified the love of Christ to everyone he met.”

The statement said the church family was “grieving deeply together” and saddened by his loss.

“We are praying and caring for his wife, Andrea, his family and the community of friends who loved him dearly.”

University of Georgia employee fired, accused of snorting cocaine in his office

A University of Georgia employee was fired after a coworker walked in on him snorting cocaine at his desk, according to details from a UGA police report and a school spokesman.

>> Read more trending news 

It is unclear if Michael Wheeler, a former agent with UGA’s Cooperative Extension, was arrested in the incident last Friday.

He left shortly after coworker Karin Booth saw him using a rolled-up piece of paper to snort a substance police now believe was cocaine, according to the police report. 

“It is reasonable to believe that Wheeler was ingesting cocaine,” police concluded in the report.

They were called to the UGA Extension office Friday morning to collect evidence turned over by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

That evidence included cocaine found in the top drawer of Wheeler’s desk, a piece of paper rolled into a straw, two of Wheeler’s name tags and brown paper towels containing a white powdery substance, according to the report.

At some point during the police investigation, Wheeler returned to hand over office keys and was initially given an administrative suspension notice.

He was later fired, UGA spokesman Gregory Trevor confirmed. The extension office is part of UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Wheeler left the scene without making a statement to authorities.

Texas church shooting: Air Force admits it failed to report Devin Kelley's past crimes

The U.S. Air Force has come forward to acknowledge a “misstep” that meant that Texas church shooter Devin Kelley’s name and criminal convictions were never entered into the National Criminal Information Center, an FBI information system that allows law enforcement officials to access crime data shared across agencies.

This meant that Kelley essentially had a clean record, even though he’d been court-martialed, dishonorably discharged and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse charges. Because his charges were never entered into the NCIC, they essentially didn’t exist.

>> Texas church shooting: Why federal law should have stopped Devin Kelley from buying guns

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 amended that Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 to affect a total of nine conditions that make someone ineligible to own a gun, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They’re serious offenses like felony charges, known substance abuse, a dishonorable discharge from any branch of the armed services, a misdemeanor (or higher) domestic violence conviction and others.

Kelley is now known to qualify as a “prohibited person” — i.e., barred from ever legally owning a gun — on two of those conditions. He received a dishonorable discharge stemming from domestic abuse charges that he pleaded guilty to in 2012, according to Military.com.

>> Texas church shooting: Scenes from home of gunman Devin Patrick Kelley

Kelley’s dishonorable discharge from the Air Force was executed in 2014. He was initially charged with five domestic abuse charges; under a plea deal created between his lawyer and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Arizona, he would plead guilty to just two of them.

>> Devin Patrick Kelley: What we know about Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooter

Kelley pleaded guilty to one incident of domestic abuse in which he “struck his wife by beating her with his hands, kicking her, as well as choking her and forcefully pulling her hair” and another incident, a beating of a child under 16 in which he hit the child “on the head and body with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm,” according to court documents reviewed by Military.com. These incidents occurred between 2011 and 2012.

Three additional charges were withdrawn and dismissed. They alleged that Kelley struck a child, as well as assaulted and threatened his wife by pointing both loaded and unloaded firearms at her.

>> Read more trending news

As for Kelley and owning a firearm, that should have been it. A convicted domestic abuser with a dishonorable discharge, he would have failed any background test run on him for the purpose of acquiring a permit or purchasing a weapon.

But his convictions never came up on background checks; they were never entered, according to the Air Force, which has pledged a “complete review of the Kelley case by the Air Force Office of the Inspector General” in a statement released Monday.

Jesse Jackson accused of sexual harassment by The Root journalist

The Root writer and producer Danielle Young has come forward with sexual harassment allegations against the Rev. Jesse Jackson that she says occurred at a prior employer, a “popular” media company.

In an article titled "Don't Let the Smile Fool You. I'm Cringing on the Inside," Young says a meeting at the previous employer's company on an unspecified date ended with a “keynote speech” by Jackson. After his speech, which she says was about the responsibility of black journalists, she joined her colleagues in line for a photo with Jackson.

>> On Rare.us: Jesse Jackson: President Trump would 'not qualify' to get into Heaven

“One by one, we stepped up, shared a few words and thank-yous with Jackson, snapped photos and went back to our desks,” she writes. “Simple enough, right?”

But Young alleges that when she went for a photo with Jackson, it wasn’t simple.

She says he gave her a look up and down and “reached out a hand and grabbed my thigh, saying, ‘I like all of that right there!’ and gave my thigh a tight squeeze.”

Young says the encounter was “something that was so casual, I almost didn’t even consider it sexual harassment, even though it was beyond my desire.” She includes a number of photographs of the encounter in her story that she says show how “visibly uncomfortable” she was.

>> Richard Dreyfuss’s son, Harry, accusing Kevin Spacey of groping him, too

When contacted for the story, Young says a former coworker noticed that Jackson had been “inappropriate with all the women.”

“And I also remember you telling me that he did something more with you,” the coworker reportedly continued. “And then we brushed the [expletive] off and chalked it up to him just being a dirty old man.”

Young says she is coming forward about the alleged thigh grab — something she admits was “barely a blip on anyone’s radar, even my own” — in the interest of speaking out “against men who simply can’t keep their hands to themselves. Because that’s where it starts.”

“My silence gave Jackson permission to continue grabbing at the next pair of thick thighs he liked,” Young says. “I’m hoping that my voice does the opposite.”

>> Read more trending news 

She is the second person to come forward with sexual harassment allegations against Jackson. In 2011, Tommy R. Bennett, a former employee of Jackson, filed a formal complaint with the city of Chicago Commission on Human Relations against Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition organization in Chicago.

Bennett, a gay man, alleged sexual harassment and discrimination because of his sexuality. 

Texas church shooting: Why federal law should have stopped Devin Kelley from buying guns

Devin Patrick Kelley shot and killed at least 26 people Sunday at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs near San Antonio. His history of violent crime should have prevented him from being able to purchase an assault-style rifle.

Here’s what we know about how the 26-year-old New Braunfels resident was able to purchase the rifle used in the attack:

>> Texas church shooting: Scenes from home of gunman Devin Patrick Kelley

1. Assault conviction. While in the Air Force, Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his then-wife and stepchild, whose skull was fractured in the incident. After serving a year in military prison, Kelley was discharged for bad conduct.

>> Devin Patrick Kelley: What we know about Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooter

2. Background check. Kelley in April 2016 purchased a Ruger AR-556 rifle at an Academy Sports + Outdoors in San Antonio. He should have failed a federal background check during that purchase because of his military record, said former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who in 1995 authored Texas’ concealed handgun license law.

The Air Force, however, failed to report Kelley’s criminal record to the FBI, according to The Associated Press.

>> Texas church shooting: Pastor’s daughter, mother of 3 among victims of shooting

Geoffrey Corn, a professor of military law at the South Texas College of Law Houston, said that based on the offense Kelley was convicted of in military court — an Article 128 family assault charge — he almost certainly would have fallen under the prohibition against felons purchasing or possessing firearms.

Military courts do not classify offenses as misdemeanors or felonies, but an Article 128 conviction in almost all cases would correspond to a felony. Corn said his conviction under military law also should have prohibited him from purchasing body armor.

>> PHOTOS: Dozens dead, wounded in Texas church shooting

3. Systemic failures. The federal background check system also failed to prevent the perpetrators of the mass shootings at Virginia Tech University and the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, from buying guns, Patterson said. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System should have stopped the shooters in those incidents from getting guns, although for different reasons: Charleston shooter Dylan Roof had a felony drug conviction, and Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho had been deemed mentally ill by a judge.

“What I would suggest is the (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) database is not complete and it’s not updated quickly enough,” Patterson said. “We may very well have a lack of interface between the military convictions and the civilian convictions.”

>> Read more trending news

4. State license denied. Kelley was denied a Texas handgun license, Gov. Greg Abbott said. However, that denial would not have prevented him from purchasing or carrying the assault weapon. That’s because Texas is essentially a “constitutional carry” state when it comes to “long guns,” meaning people can openly carry assault-style rifles without a special permit.

Miley Cyrus responds to criticism over Texas church shooting comments

Miley Cyrus responded to criticism of her initial reaction to the news of the deadly church shooting in Texas with a commentary on white men, guns and President Donald Trump.

>> Chelsea Handler's tweet about Texas church shooting draws ire

On Sunday, Devin Kelley, 26, killed 26 people after he opened fire in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Cyrus wrote that the shooting was a “TERRORIST act by a WHITE AMERICAN MAN” and said she was “mortified by our country" and its "lack of control/laws” in an Instagram post. 

>> See the post here (WARNING: Linked page contains profanity)

Fans were divided by the post.

“Gun laws are not the issue!” one Instagram user argued. “Without guns, the shooter would probably still be alive and have killed a lot more people! But since there was a GOOD GUY WITH A GUN he was able to put a stop to the shooter! Drugs safe illegal, people still find a way to get them. Drinking and driving is illegal, people are dying everyday because of it. Laws do not stop people.”

>> Chelsea Handler doubles down on Texas church shooting comments

Another wrote, “Thank you Miley for the passion and love you speak with not everyone will agree with you and that’s ok but the point is a discussion most be had and something most be done.”

In a follow-up post, Cyrus said she was “aghast” by the reaction to her first post.

"It is completely amazing to me how defensive and in denial this country really is!" she wrote. "You are not focused on the horrific tragedy I addressed but more angered that I am putting a BIG bright spotlight on the fact it was a 'WHITE AMERICAN MALE' terrorist that walked in & killed 26 people (including children) leaving 20 severely injured!"

>> See the post here (WARNING: Linked page contains profanity)

She also criticized Trump for saying the focus should be on mental health, not guns, while on a foreign policy trip to Japan.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns situation,” Trump said in a press conference.

>> Trump says Texas church shooting result of 'mental health problem,' not guns

“I’d like to believe that EVERY person who takes the life of another being is 'mentally ill'…. it’s hard to conceptualize that a sane human could commit such a hideous crime. BUT I am sorry Donald Trump this absolutely is a 'GUNS SITUATION,'” Cyrus wrote.

She then received backlash for speaking on the part that external factors such as gender, race and religion played after a mass shooting.

>> Read more trending news

In her final post, Cyrus told her fans that it was not her intention to “generalize or stereotype.” She shared pictures of the men in her family with the caption, “Just a few of my favorite WHITE AMERICAN MALES.”

“You are all correct to believe every human deserves the same respect …. but please keep that in mind when you’re judging others. NOT just with the race, religion, gender or sexuality which YOU identify with. Deal?” she wrote.

Cyrus ended her statements with a heart emoji.

>> See the post here

Chelsea Handler doubles down on Texas church shooting comments

Chelsea Handler continued tweeting her criticisms after blaming Republicans for a deadly church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

>> Chelsea Handler's tweet about Texas church shooting draws ire

“I don’t know how these poor people are supposed to accept that their government watches these mass shootings and does nothing. It’s so sick,” she said Sunday night.

>> See the tweet here

On Monday, Handler tweeted a “Call your representative!” template.

>> See the tweet here

The tweets came after Handler insinuated that Republicans were responsible after Devin Kelley, 26, walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and opened fire on parishioners, killing 26. She wrote, “Innocent people go to church on Sunday to honor their God, and while doing so, get shot in [sic] killed. What country? America. Why? Republicans.”

>> See the tweet here

Social media users lambasted Handler for remaining quiet on the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in July. They were also quick to share their distaste for her words. One user accused her of politicizing the tragedy with the “disgusting statement,” while another said, “You really have a dark heart.”

>> Read more trending news 

Handler also went after President Donald Trump after he tweeted, “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.” Handler responded negatively by saying, “You have no capacity to monitor anything that doesn’t involve lining your pockets.”

>> See her tweet here

After hearing of the shooting, Trump focused on the shooter’s mental health rather than guns.

>> Trump says Texas church shooting result of 'mental health problem,' not guns

“Mental health is your problem here. This was a very, based on preliminary reports, a very deranged individual. A lot of problems over a long period of time,” he said in a press conference that was held while he was on a foreign policy visit in Japan.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns situation.”

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