Church Shooting Survivor Files Claim Against Defense Dept., Air Force

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Inside Maggie Vidal’s room at the Floresville Residence and Rehabilitation Center, there’s a symbol of faith in every corner.

“He’s the one that’s been pulling me through,” Vidal said.

Vidal survived the Sutherland Springs shooting inside First Baptist Church, where she was shot twice. She attended services at that church for the last 15 years.

“The whole time I was by the pew there, I was saying ‘help me, Jesus, help me, Jesus,’” she recalled.

Vidal and her family have filed a claim against the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force, taking the first steps toward suing both parties. Vidal and her attorney, Jamal Alsaffar, say the gunman’s criminal record should have prevented him from legally buying firearms and claim the Defense Department and the Air Force failed to properly report his criminal record.

The department said the shooter, Devin P. Kelley, had domestic violence convictions from 2012. He was found guilty by a general court martial on two charges of domestic assault against his wife and stepson under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and was sentenced to 12 months confinement at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California before being released with a Bad Conduct Discharge and reduction in grade to E-1.

The Air Force admitted after the shooting its offices’ mistake in not reporting Kelley’s previous conduct “was not an isolated incident and similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations.”

“Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking,” a news release from the Air Force said.

“I’m hoping and praying nothing like this will ever happen again and for the government and military to do their job,” Vidal said.

Right now, Vidal has nurses helping her with therapy everyday. She’s currently unable to use her right leg due to the shooting and Alsaffar said she’s also recovering from an infection in that wound. Vidal said certain noises can trigger emotional trauma from the incident. When watching TV, she says she changes the channel if there are any scenes and sounds with guns. Her family visits daily to help her at the rehabilitation center.

“I just try to keep strong,” she said.

Since the shooting, four families have taken action against the Air Force, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia have also filed suit against the Defense Department for its failure to report crimes to the FBI’s national background check system for gun buyers. In December, another family sued Academy Sports & Outdoors for selling firearms to the gunman.

Vidal and her attorney say they hope by filing this claim, it urges the government to act on preventative measures so reporting mistakes don’t happen in the future.

“A lot of innocent people got killed and so that’s what I don’t want,” Vidal said. Alsaffar said his law firm is currently helping another family impacted by the Sutherland Springs shooting with filing a claim as well.

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