On Tuesday, the family that lost eight members during the horrific church shooting earlier this month filed a notice of claim, stating the Air Force was negligent in its failure to file paperwork that could have prevented the gunman from purchasing the firearms used in the attack. The Holcombe’s allege the “institutional failures” were responsible for the deaths.
The claim filed by members of the Holcombe family functions as a starting point for what could be a long process which may ultimately lead to a lawsuit against the Department of Defense and the US Air Force.
After the shooting, the Air Force publicly admitted that information related to a court-martial domestic violence conviction against the shooter was not submitted to the national database. A proper filing could have prevented the gunman from buying the firearms that were used in the massacre, as convicted felons are barred from purchasing the weapons, and the required background check would have displayed the conviction.
According to NBC News, the Air Force had no comment on the filing and has six months to either accept or deny the claim that was filed by Bryan Holcombe’s parents.
Bryan Holcombe, 60, was an associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and was leading the service when the shooter opened fire. He was killed during the massacre, along with his wife, Karla, and their son, two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren. The unborn child of one of the women has listed by authorities as the ninth victim.
The claim alleges that the Air Force’s failure to report the gunman’s conviction allowed him to purchase the weapons and ammunition, stating, “It is the failure by the U.S. Air Force to abide by these policies, procedures, regulations and/or guidelines that directly caused this horrific tragedy.”
During an interview, Joe Holcombe stated that he and his wife chose to file the claim because “[the shooting] just shouldn’t have ever happened, and maybe we can keep it from happening again.”
The claim was specifically addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, the civilian director of the service. Four days after the massacre, Wilson acknowledged the Air Force had not properly recorded the shooter’s conviction with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. If the filing was completed, the parties who sold the gunman the firearms would have been alerted that the sale was prohibited.
During a subsequent investigation, including a review of 60,000 other cases involving a conviction, it was determined that the filing error was not an isolated incident. The Air Force stated, “Similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations,” continuing, “Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking.”