If it wasn’t for former NRA instructor Stephen Willeford, the shooting that occurred in a Sutherland, Texas, church on Sunday may have been far deadlier than the 26 lives that were lost.
According to KHBS-TV, Willeford lives next to the First Baptist Church where the shooting happened. He was at home that Sunday when his daughter came into the room and said she heard shooting at the church next door.
As Willeford got his gun out of his safe and prepared to defend the church, his daughter reentered the room and said she saw a man in black tactical gear shooting it up.
“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 told KHBS.
The story becomes even more harrowing:
Willeford loaded his magazine and ran across the street to the church, not even taking the time to put on shoes. When Willeford saw the gunman, he exchanged gunfire.
“He saw me and I saw him,” Willeford said. “I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover.”
“I know I hit him,” Willeford said. “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.”
Willeford didn’t mean to let the event end there and was going to bring the gunman to justice. Looking nearby he saw Johnnie Langendorff in his truck and asked for his assistance in chasing Kelley down. Langendorff was only too happy to oblige.
Willeford and Langendorff were giving chase together when things came to a sudden conclusion:
Eventually, they caught up to the gunman’s truck. The gunman slowed down before speeding up and hitting a road sign. The gunman’s truck flipped and went down into a ditch.
Willeford got out of the truck and put his rifle on top of the truck, keeping his eye on where the gunman’s vehicle was.
Willeford yelled “get out of the truck, get out of the truck,” but never saw any movement. Law enforcement came to the scene. They believe the gunman committed suicide.
Despite Willeford’s heroic actions, he said he doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“I think my God, my Lord protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done,” Willeford said.