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Texas church gunman was known to congregation as needy

  • Author: Jake Bleiberg, Jamie Stengle, Associated Press
  • Updated: December 31, 2019
  • Published December 31, 2019

This June 16, 2015, photo provided by the River Oaks Police Department, in Texas, shows Keith Thomas Kinnunen. Authorities say that Kinnunen is the man who carried out an attack Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. (River Oaks Police Department via AP)

DALLAS — The man who fatally shot two people at a Texas church was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial in 2012 and was repeatedly fed by the congregation before he grew angry because church officials refused to give him money, according to court records and the pastor.

It’s unclear whether Keith Thomas Kinnunen’s extensive criminal record and psychological history would have barred him from legally buying the shotgun he used during Sunday’s attack at the West Freeway Church of Christ in the Fort Worth-area town of White Settlement.

Kinnunen, 43, shot worshipers Richard White and Anton "Tony" Wallace in the sanctuary before a member of the church's volunteer security team shot and killed him, according to police and witnesses.

Minister Britt Farmer told The Christian Chronicle that he recognized Kinnunen after seeing a photo of him without the fake beard, wig, hat and long coat he was wearing as a disguise. Kinnunen visited the congregation several other times this year and was given food, the minister said.

"We've helped him on several occasions with food," Farmer said in the interview. "He gets mad when we won't give him cash."

Authorities have said Kinnunen's motive remains under investigation and they declined to comment on how he obtained the gun he used, although a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it had successfully traced the weapon.

Church and community members, including Matt Pacholczyk, left, and his wife, Faith Pacholczyk, stand outside West Freeway Church of Christ for a candlelight vigil, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. A gunman shot and killed two people before an armed security officer returned fire, killing him during a service at the church on Sunday. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Court records portray Kinnunen as being deeply troubled long before Sunday’s attack.

In 2012, a district judge in Oklahoma ruled him mentally incompetent to stand trial and ordered him committed to a psychiatric facility for treatment.

Kinnunen was charged with felony assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after he attacked the owner of a Chickasha, Oklahoma, doughnut shop in 2011, court records state. He was separately charged with arson that year after allegedly starting a fire in a cotton field by tying tampons soaked in lamp oil to the crop.

Earlier on the day of that fire, Kinnunen soaked a football in the accelerant, lit it on fire and then threw it back and forth with his son, who was a minor, according to the arrest affidavit. The boy told police he was afraid his father would get mad if he asked to stop.

A forensic psychologist who examined him in 2012 for both cases wrote that "Kinnunen currently evidences signs that are consistent with a substantial mental illness and that meet the inpatient criteria of a 'person requiring treatment.'"

Records show Kinnunen was found competent to stand trial in February 2013, however both criminal cases were ultimately reduced to misdemeanors, to which he pleaded guilty.

One of Kinnunen's ex-wives, Cynthia L. Glasgow-Voegle, also filed for a protective order against him in 2012, Oklahoma records show.

"Keith is a violent, paranoid person with a long line of assault and battery w/ and without firearms," Glasgow-Voegle said in the petition. She also wrote that Kinnunen was prone to religious fanaticism and "says he's battling a demon."

Kinnunen got "more and more" into drugs and "it messed with his head" during his second marriage, said Angela Holloway, whose divorce from him was finalized in 2011.

Holloway, a 44-year-old Fort Worth resident, said she hadn't spoken to Kinnunen in years and learned from news reports that he was the church attacker. She said she and Kinnunen used to attend church together and that there were times he appeared to be off drugs, but that he was frightening by the end of their six-year marriage.

"He was really disturbed," Holloway told The Associated Press.

Holloway said she doesn't know whether Kinnunen was ever diagnosed with a mental illness and that she wasn't sure if he could legally have guns, but that he consistently did.

"I don't know how he got them, I just know that he did have them," she said.

Seconds after Kinnunen opened fire in the church Sunday, Jack Wilson, a 71-year-old firearms instructor, shot him once in the head.

The actions of Wilson and other armed churchgoers quickly drew praise from some Texas lawmakers and gun-rights advocates. Texas officials hailed the state's gun laws, including a measure enacted this year that affirmed the right of licensed handgun holders to carry a weapon inside places of worship unless a facility bans them.

"We can't prevent every incident, we can't prevent mental illness from occurring, and we can't prevent every crazy person from pulling a gun, but we can be prepared like this church was," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told reporters Monday.

President Donald Trump tweeted Monday night and Tuesday morning about the attack, both times highlighting the role of armed citizens in stopping the shooter. "If it were not for the fact that there were people inside of the church that were both armed, and highly proficient in using their weapon, the end result would have been catastrophic. A big THANK YOU to them!" Trump tweeted Tuesday.

But other Texas lawmakers, while praising the churchgoers' actions, called for a special legislative session to address gun violence after a devastating year that included mass shootings in El Paso and the West Texas cities of Odessa and Midland.

"As lawmakers, we must come together to address the rise in gun violence we have seen in Texas," state Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth, said in a statement Monday. "Yesterday's gunman had a long criminal record, including charges of aggravated assault and possession of an illegal weapon. We must respect the Second Amendment while also working together to keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to do harm to Texans worshiping in a church, attending school or shopping for their children."

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Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber in Austin, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.


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