Stephen Willeford, 55, and Johnnie Langendorff, 27, are being hailed as heroes for their role in taking down the shooter at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Willeford shot the gunman and forced him to drop his rifle and flee, and now, for the first time, Willeford is speaking publicly about his actions.
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Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, killed 26 people at the church in Texas. He was leaving the building when Willeford shot him. Willeford then jumped into Langendorff’s truck and the two chased the gunman and ran him off the road.
“I’m no hero. All I want to stress today,” Willeford told KHBS, “is the people at that church, they’re friends of mine, they’re family, and every time I heard a shot I knew that probably represented a life.”
“I think my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done.”
Willeford heard the shots. Then his daughter called and told him a man was shooting up the church. Even though he was barefooted, Willeford ran to his safe and took out his AR-15. He had no magazines loaded, so he took the rifle, a box of ammo, and a magazine and loaded up as best he could as he ran to the church.
“I was scared for me and I was scared for every one of them, and I was scared for my own family that lived less than a block away. I think my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done. And I just wish I could’ve gotten there faster. But I didn’t know, I didn’t know what was happening.”
Willeford could see that Kelley was wearing body armor, so he shot him in his side, where there was no coverage from the steel plate. He also shot him in the leg.
“I kept hearing the shots, one after another, very rapid shots – just ‘Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!’ – and I knew every one of those shots represented someone, that it was aimed at someone, that they weren’t just random shots,” Willeford explained.
“He saw me and I saw him,” Willeford said. “I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover. I know I hit him. He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window. When the window dropped, I fired another round at him again.”
Langendorff had been on the way to his girlfriend’s house when he drove up on the scene at the church.
“The neighbor with the rifle came to my truck and he opened my door and said, ‘He shot up the church,’ and got in,” Langendorff told Good Morning America. “He said, ‘Chase him’ so that’s what I did. I just chased him.”
“It seemed everybody had headed up to the church. I’m not sure if anybody really realized that he had left and gone that direction.”
“That’s when I put the truck in park,” Langendorff said. “The other gentleman jumped out, and had his rifle on him. He didn’t move after that.”
Kelley had run, but was unable to control the SUV. He ran off the road. The two men chasing him held him at gunpoint, though it isn’t clear if they fired more rounds as they drove or once he had run off the road. Kelley was dead. Law enforcement officials say Kelley had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, though it may have been the combination that proved fatal.
“There was no thinking about it,” Langendorff said. “There was just doing. That was the key to all this. Act now. Ask questions later.”
When asked about how he feels about being called a hero, Langendorff was dismissive. “I don’t really know how I feel. I just hope that the families and people affected by this can sleep easier knowing that this man is not breathing any more and not able to hurt anyone else. I feel I just did what was right.”
“I didn’t want this and I want the focus to be on my friends,” Willeford said. “I have friends in that church. I was terrified while this was going on.”
Here is an interview with Langendorff. He starts talking about 4:30 in.
Here is a short piece with Willeford.