Devin Patrick Kelley

Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Nearly four months after the firing of Jerome Socolovsky, Religion News Service has hired a new editor in chief.

The name will be familiar to regular GetReligion readers: Bob Smietana.

Smietana, as a news release from RNS notes, is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has worked for The Tennessean, Christianity Today and, most recently, Facts & Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Smietana served as president of the Religion News Association from 2013 to 2015. He is extremely familiar with RNS, previously serving as a correspondent for the news organization and as a member of its board of managers.

From the release:

Smietana credits RNS with first launching his career, and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to now lead the organization, expand its footprint and mentor the next generation of religion journalists.

“The American religious landscape is being transformed before our eyes,” Smietana said. “For more than 80 years, RNS has covered religion with accuracy, insight, empathy and independence. As a result, RNS is perfectly positioned to document that transformation and to help our readers navigate this new world.”

Smietana’s appointment concludes a national search, which solicited more than 130 applicants, helmed by Nicole Neroulias Gupte, chair of the RNS Board of Managers.

“After considering many qualified candidates for this position, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of Bob Smietana’s religion journalism experience, his passion for this beat and commitment to our organization,” Gupte said. “We look forward to working with him as RNS grows its staff and coverage areas, including implementing our Global Religion Journalism Initiative and other exciting projects.”

Smietana is a friend of mine and a longtime reader of GetReligion. We appreciate his willingness to praise us when he agrees with our critiques and engage with us when he disagrees. We hope that continues in his new role.

Full disclosure: I occasionally write freelance stories for RNS.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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'The hardest story I've ever written': Journalist masterfully tells story of church gunman's wife

'The hardest story I've ever written': Journalist masterfully tells story of church gunman's wife

Want to read the best, most insightful coverage of the aftermath of last November's massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas? 

Then you absolutely must follow the byline of San Antonio Express-News journalist Silvia Foster-Frau, who repeatedly has produced extraordinary journalism on this sad subject.

Just three past examples of her must-read reporting on Sutherland Springs:

• Her hopeful, sensitive, nuanced portrait of victims a month after the tragedy.

• Her poignant account of survivors attending National Day of Prayer events in Washington, D.C., in May.

• Her detail-laden profile, published in June, of the “good guy with a gun” who confronted the gunman outside the church. 

And now comes another masterpiece from Foster-Frau, this one from the front page of Sunday's Express-News and featuring her exclusive interviews with the troubled wife of the dead gunman.

How incredible was this latest story? Consider that at least two other major Texas papers — the Houston Chronicle (a sister publication of the Express-News) and the Dallas Morning News — both reprinted it on their front pages today.

The chilling opening scene recounts what happened at the home of Devin and Danielle Kelley on the morning of Nov. 5:

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Wedgwood Baptist flashback: A clock started ticking on a new era of attacks on religious believers

Wedgwood Baptist flashback: A clock started ticking on a new era of attacks on religious believers

Day after day, I get waves of promotional emails from groups that I have covered during my 30 years as a religion-beat columnist.

Some of them I merely glance at. Others I fill away for future use.

One email this morning stood out, for obvious reasons. It was from the team of church-security advisors with an organization that calls itself the Sheepdog Seminars (as in workers who fight the wolves that prey on "sheep" in a church flock). One member of the team, Jimmy Meeks, is a Hurst, Texas, police officer who is also a Southern Baptist preacher. I've been corresponding with him for years (click here for a column from five years ago).

The email was from Sutherland Springs, Texas. Here's what it said:

This newsletter is short. Quite frankly, I don't know what to tell you this time. I do know this: we have now set a new "record" for the number of people killed on church and faith-based property this year: 92 so far.

The old "record" was 77 lives in 2015. This violence is not going to stop. You had better prepare your church. 

As our own Bobby Ross, Jr., noted at midweek, journalists have been all over the church-security angle of this latest tragedy -- with good cause. The fact that there are multiple companies and networks dedicated to this kind of work is evidence of the validity of this story.

The common theme is not that church pews need to be packed with people who have concealed weapons. The bottom line is that religious institutions need some kind of plan for security and, tragically, this now means preparing to stop or slow down a gunman, with worshipers briefed on evacuation plans, etc.

This is not a new story, of course. Thus, I appreciated that The Fort Worth Star-Tribune team dug into its own local angle on this latest massacre in a church. I am talking about the attack nearly two decades ago at that city's Wedgwood Baptist Church, which was the tragedy that -- for security experts -- started the clock ticking on a bloody new era.

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Veering to the dark side: What role did religion play in Devin Patrick Kelley's fatal family feud?

Veering to the dark side: What role did religion play in Devin Patrick Kelley's fatal family feud?

Yes, this is another GetReligion post about the contents of the original Facebook page that belonged to Devin Patrick Kelley, as opposed to some of the doctored material being circulated by "fake news" conspiracy theory websites.

After my original post on the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas -- "Texas church massacre: What to do with atheism arguments on that Facebook page? -- I received several messages pointing me toward an important quote from a Texas official involved in the investigation.

Here's the quote, as it was included in a report at The Washington Post:

“This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs,” Freeman Martin, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news briefing. “There was a domestic situation going on within the family and the in-laws.”

Journalists are, of course, still struggling to put the "Why?" component in the old-school news formula known as "Who," "What," "When," "Where," "Why" and "How."

It is certainly crucial information that Kelley had been sending threatening messages to his mother-in-law and that she, along with Kelley's estranged wife, had been attending worship services at the Sutherland Springs church from time to time. This kind of family feud, linked to a history of domestic violence, is a powerful and logical hook for "Why?" reporting.

However, I have been pondering several questions over the past 24 hours as new evidence emerged: First, are law officials absolutely sure that there was no religious component to the family split at the heart of Kelley's actions? He was, after all, an ex-Baptist who -- according to his Facebook page and the testimonies of friends -- had evolved into an angry and argumentative atheist.

My second question: If the goal was to seek revenge on his mother-in-law, and she was not in the service, why did he try to kill the rest of the congregation?

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