The man who came face-to-face with a Sutherland Springs madman who killed 26 people in a Texas church says God protected him and gave him the skills to stop more deaths.
The former NRA instructor engaged Devin Patrick Kelley as he exited the church. Stephen Willeford told 40/29 News reporter Joshua Cole in a video interview on Monday:
“I’m no hero. I’m not. I think my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills I needed to do what needed to be done. I just wish I could have gotten there faster. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what was happening.”
Willeford told Cole the experience was surreal saying:
“I was scared. It was surreal to me–it couldn’t be happening.”
After hearing the “pop pop pop pop” sound, a sound too familiar to the former NRA instructor, Willeford said he grabbed his rifle, loaded rounds into his magazine, and stepped out onto the street. Willeford saw a man wearing all black, a tactical helmet, and a ballistic vest, then took cover and did what he had to do saying:
“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. He saw me and I saw him.”
In a press conference Monday, officials say Devin Patrick Kelley, the killer of 26 in the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, was struck by Willeford’s gun fire twice: once in the torso and once in the leg, then dropped his rifle, got in his car, and fled the scene before he could shoot any other people outside the church.
Willeford says after he fired, he stopped a passing neighbor to asked for help telling the driver, “That guy just shot up the Baptist church.” The two climbed in the car and together, and took off in pursuit of the church killer.
The two eventually caught up to Kelley’s SUV shortly before he crashed into a road sign. Willeford says he and the driver shouted at Kelley to get out of his truck, but there was no movement. They later learned Kelley shot himself in the head after calling his father.
Willeford’s family has lived in the unincorporated Texas community of Sutherland Springs for four generations. Many of those who died or were wounded were friends of his, and says he is not a hero, but others are sure to disagree.