The man so many are declaring a hero after he stopped the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church massacre Sunday says he’s really nothing of the sort.
But Stephen Willeford, 55, did put an end to the carnage after 26 people, including children, had been shot dead, and many more injured, at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs by 26-year-old gunman Devin Patrick Kelley.
Willeford bravely pursued the mass murderer and made sure that even more people from the tiny town near San Antonio did not perish.
According to a local resident, Willeford, who attends a different church, first heard about the unfolding shooting from his daughter, who said she’d heard gun shots and seen the black-clad assailant, reports the Daily Mail.
Willeford responded by grabbing his gun and heading to the church to confront the gunman. Freeman Martin, the Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director, said Willeford grabbed his rifle, left his home so quickly that he didn’t have shoes on and “engaged the suspect.” He shot Kelley, apparently wounding him before he could get into his vehicle and flee the gruesome scene.
In an interview with KHBS, a tearful Willeford acknowledged that he was scared to death, but he did what had to be done.
“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,” Willeford said. “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.”
He then got into a truck driven by Johnnie Langendorff, 27, and they chased the gunman at speeds exceeding 95 mph. Kelley lost control of his car and crashed. When Willeford, with his gun drawn, and Langendorff screamed at Kelley to get out of the car, there was no movement. Kelley was dead. When authorities found him, they discovered what they believe to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. Kelley had called his father shortly before the crash to say he had been shot and didn’t think he was going to live.
Langendorff told the Washington Post that Willeford had “briefed [him] quickly on what had just happened and said he had to get [the shooter].”
“So that’s what I did.”
The residents of Sutherland Springs declared Willeford a hero, but he couldn’t quite agree with that distinction.
“I’m no hero. All I want to stress today, 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.”