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Community Where Texas Gunman Grew Up Reeling From Church Massacre


The small Texas town of Sutherland Springs is struggling to come to terms with the mass shooting that happened at the First Baptist Church yesterday. And another Texas community is also reeling. New Braunfels just north of San Antonio is where the suspect, Devin Patrick Kelley, lived. Mose Buchele from member station KUT in Austin went there to learn more about Kelley and about the community that he came from.

MOSE BUCHELE, BYLINE: This morning, in front of New Braunfels High School, student Matt Doerr lowered the U.S. and Texas state flags to half-mast as his grandfather watched. Flags are lowered all across the state, but the shooting has a special significance here.

MATT DOERR: The adult that did the tragedy - he was a student of the high school. It's harsh.

BUCHELE: Devin Patrick Kelley graduated from New Braunfels High in 2009. Doerr says his classmates and their families are talking about the shooting.

DOERR: Today, when I got to my grandpa's house, I told him, you need to start carrying that around a lot more. You don't - you can't trust anybody anymore.

BUCHELE: When you say carrying that, you mean...

DOERR: Having a gun on him.

RONNIE NOLTE: I carry everywhere I can now. You just about have to because you don't know what's going on, whether there's a terrorist or a deranged person or whatever.

BUCHELE: That's his grandfather, Ronnie Nolte. He says the fear of these attacks is growing along with the questions.

NOLTE: I'd like to know more about the person who did this - not so much to know about him but more to know about what to be looking for down the road if something like that were to happen here.

BUCHELE: After graduating high school, Kelley joined the Air Force, but he didn't last too long there. He was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his child and then-wife. He served a year in confinement. After being discharged for bad conduct, he got in trouble with the law for animal cruelty in 2014 in Colorado. He ended up moving back to New Braunfels, where he lived in a ranch to market road just about 10 minutes from where he went to high school. He moved into that house with his second wife.

I came here to try to talk to some neighbors, but the houses are really far apart. They have deep, gated driveways and sometimes no-trespassing signs. There's a sheriff's deputy parked out in front of the Kelley property.

I did talk to some of Kelley's former classmates. Many of them remember a withdrawn and aggressive kid. But Matt Wisher, who called me from work on his cell phone, said that wasn't the Kelley he knew back then.

MATT WISHER: He was a little bit arrogant, but he was - I never had any problems with him. We hung out.

BUCHELE: Wisher and Kelley played sports and went to the same church. But he says they fell out of touch after he graduated.

WISHER: I mean, I didn't see him for about five or six years. And he contacted me on Facebook. And he was now an atheist. His physical appearance had changed. He had gained about 200 pounds. I knew something had changed with him.

BUCHELE: He also said when they last spoke, Kelley told him he was having trouble with his marriage. But it didn't seem that serious. And he was excited about the birth of his second child.

WISHER: I was just shocked. I didn't think that he'd be able to do something like that.

BRAD MCLEAN: No matter where the suspect grew up, it would take any community by surprise.

BUCHELE: That's Brad McLean. He's pastor of the first Baptist Church in New Braunfels. He says that shock and fear is resonating in his congregation as well, but he believes, like many in town, there is a way towards healing and hope.

MCLEAN: We will pray for those in Sutherland Springs. We will pray for that church family. We will pray for the families who have suffered the loss of family members.

BUCHELE: And, he says, they will pray for the family of Devin Patrick Kelley. For NPR News, I'm Mose Buchele in New Braunfels, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.
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