Trial Begins in Texas to Determine Air Force's Liability in 2017 Church Shooting

A trial to determine to what extent the U.S. Air Force should pay to compensate survivors and families of a 2017 church massacre began Tuesday, per orders from U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez.

Rodriguez ruled in July that the Air Force was "60 percent liable" for the attack by Devin Patrick Kelley, who was discharged from the Air Force in 2014 for bad conduct. Kelley exchanged gunfire with an armed resident while exiting First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and then died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after crashing his vehicle while being chased by two Sutherland Springs residents.

The judge found the Air Force partially responsible because it failed to submit Kelley's assault conviction during his time in the Air Force to a national database, which could have barred him from purchasing firearms he used to kill more than two dozen parishioners.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Sutherland Springs
The U.S. Air Force went on trial on October 5 to determine if it should pay to compensate survivors and families of a 2017 church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2017. Visitors tour the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after it was turned into a memorial to honor those who died on November 12, 2017 in Sutherland Springs. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A trial to assess damages owed to families of the victims of the Sutherland Springs church massacre began with vivid witness accounts of the shooting.

John Porter Holcombe testified for several hours Monday about the horrors of Kelley's November 5, 2017, attack on the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of San Antonio.

Holcombe said he was videotaping the service that Sunday when the front door opened and Kelley, dressed in black and with a rifle, stood in the entryway and declared, "First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, today you are all going to die!" He said the next thing he heard was gunshots.

Holcombe said he was shot a few times but that he laid still. When he felt it was safe enough, he looked around for his family and friends but only saw "lifeless bodies."

Among the 26 dead were Holcombe's pregnant wife, Crystal, his two stepchildren, his parents, his brother Marc "Danny" Holcombe and an infant niece. Twenty-two people were wounded but survived.

Rodriguez began to hear testimony Monday in the damages phase of the case, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Dingivan, representing the Air Force, told the court Monday that "the government has no intention...to denigrate or dismiss the claims of these plaintiffs, who we can all agree endured a horrific tragedy."

He said the government has already stipulated "reasonable compensation and reasonable treatment for some of these plaintiffs" in suggested payments ranging from "$400 to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more."

"As to future medical expenses, we have presented life-care plans covering future [treatment/needs] recommending millions of dollars in future medical care," Dingivan said. "We have proposed PTSD treatment, backed by research, for those individuals who use it. We have proposed home health care, medicine, surgery...for those plaintiffs who need them."

This phase of the trial is expected to last two weeks.