Survivors of the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting filed a letter on Thursday asking the Justice Department to stop appealing their case so as not to delay justice and “get on with the healing.”
In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the survivors and families of those killed wrote an appeal that would further delay justice and force them to publicly experience the trauma they endured as a result of the church shooting.
A spokesperson for a lawyer representing the victims of the shooting said the Justice Department’s appeal could take up to two years to process.
“By submitting your appeal, we feel betrayed by the country we love and which many of us have served,” the letter says. “You conducted two separate trials with us that lasted several weeks. We had to go through the nightmare of the shooting publicly and talk about the most private parts of our lives while being cross-examined by cold-blooded government lawyers.”
On November 5, 2017, Devin Kelly, a US Air Force veteran with a history of domestic violence, shot and killed 26 people at a Baptist church in rural Central Texas before taking his own life. A years-long legal battle has since ensued, with the government and the victims pitted against each other.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department filed an appeal against a 2021 verdict that found the U.S. Air Force primarily responsible for the mass shooting. A federal district judge ruled that the agency failed to disclose the shooter’s criminal history to the FBI, which could have resulted in him failing a background check. The government denies that it played a major role in the shooting and could not have prevented the attack.
“The United States has unconditional sympathy for the victims of the Kelly attack,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in their appeal brief. “But under Texas law, the United States is not legally liable for damages caused by this shooting.”
Letters from survivors noted that the US government had settled previous mass shootings, including cases at Parkland High School and a church in Charleston.
The 2021 verdict also orders the Air Force to pay $230 million in damages to the survivors of the shooting and the families of the victims. This amount was not paid, and the survivors said they were ready to accept a reduction of up to 10% or even 15% “to end this five-year battle.”
After the Justice Department released its briefing on January 9, the National Rifle Association announced its support for the move, arguing that background checks do not improve public safety or prevent shootings.
However, survivors of the shooting note in their letter that the Justice Department’s appeal runs counter to the gun safety policy supported by President Joe Biden. This summer, Biden passed landmark legislation addressing gun violence, which included enhanced background checks for those under the age of 21 and tightened ownership restrictions for perpetrators of domestic violence.
“President Biden says background checks are working,” the survivors wrote in the letter. “We agree with that.”
One of the victims of the shooting, Juan Macias, read the letter aloud Thursday at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, which now serves as a memorial to the victims. Macias served as a Sergeant in the US Marine Corps.
“Seven of us passed away while waiting to start our business,” he said in the recorded video. “And it seems like your plan is to appeal and wait for others to die or give up. Many of us may die while we wait, but we will not give up.”