The deadliest shooting in Texas history could have claimed even more lives if it weren’t for a local resident who confronted the gunman, and another man who joined him to chase down the shooter, authorities say.
Stephen Willeford lives next to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. After Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire inside the church on Sunday, Willeford heard the commotion, grabbed his own gun, ran out of his house barefoot and confronted the gunman.
“He said he was loading the magazine as fast as he could, he didn’t even know how many rounds he had put in the magazine,” said Willeford’s cousin, Ken Leonard, during an interview with CNN’s Brooke Baldwin.
“What do you say to the man who stepped up when he heard the gunshots? I’d say he’s a hero,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. Had he not done what he did, we could have lost more people.” Twenty-six people at the church were slain, and 20 were injured.
Leonard said his cousin shot Kelley in the side and twice in the neck.
“He saw that the guy was wearing body armor, and there was a velcro strap, from the back to the front,” explained Leonard, speaking live on Monday. “He knew from that … that the vulnerable spot was going to be in the side. And so that’s where he shot him.”
Leonard added that the shooter carjacked a nearby vehicle and engaged his cousin in a firefight. “As he was doing that, (my cousin) shot him again, in the neck.”
Willeford shot at Kelley before the gunman sped away in a pearl-colored Ford Explorer. Willeford then hailed a man across the street and got in his truck, telling him to chase down Kelley. “I had to catch the guy,” the motorist, Johnnie Langendorff told CNN on Monday. “I had to make sure he was caught and at that point the gentleman riding with me said you may have to use your truck to get him off the road and there was no hesitation. It was do everything necessary to make sure that this guy is stopped.” At a news conference Sunday night, investigators offered a timeline of the attack at the church and described the role Willeford played.
The gunman entered the small church in the rural town east of San Antonio, firing with a rifle at the congregation attending the morning service.
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