On Monday, conservative commentator and comedian Steven Crowder interviewed Stephen Willeford, the heroic 55-year-old man who grabbed his gun and ran toward danger on Sunday as Devin Patrick Kelley, a man with a disturbing, violent past, was in the process of committing the most deadly mass shooting in the history of Texas.
During the 11 a.m. worship service of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Kelley, 26, armed with a Ruger AR-15 and wearing black tactical gear complete with a ballistic vest, opened fire on congregants, killing 26 and injuring over 20.
When he was told by his daughter that someone was shooting at the nearby church, Willeford, an NRA instructor, quickly went to his safe and got out his rifle and a handful of ammunition. Willeford, who didn't even have time to put on shoes, then courageously went out to confront the gunman.
"I love my community. I love the people that are there. I know most of the people who went to the church there," he told Crowder, clearly struggling to keep his emotions in check. "And most of them know my grandparents, the older ones, that's how far back it goes."
After Crowder noted that everyone in the community has spoken very highly of him, he asked the humble hero to describe the events surrounding the shooting.
Willeford told Crowder that his older daughter was the one who suggested that the popping sound outside was gunfire. As he ran back to his safe to get out his AR-15, his daughter went to her car and drove around the block to see what was happening. When she returned, she said that a man in black tactical gear was shooting up the church that was a block away.
Willeford said that he grabbed a handful of ammunition and began loading a magazine as walked toward the door. He noted that he told his older daughter to load another magazine for him just to give her "busy work" to occupy her mind. Willeford underscored that his family had undergone NRA fire arms safety training, and he himself was an NRA instructor.
"I ran out of the house — and some people said why did you run out barefoot?" he said. "My answer was every time I heard a shot, I was thinking that was assigned to someone else. That shot was a sign that he was shooting at another person, every time I heard a shot fire — and I didn't have time to put shoes on."
Willeford said he ran across the neighbor's yard toward the church and saw a gray SUV in the street with the engine running and the door open.
"I saw the shooter come from around the vehicle, and this time he had a handgun in his hand," said WIlleford. "My daughter said he had an AR-15, but when I saw him he had a handgun." Willeford said that Kelley was wearing black tactical gear, including a helmet with a dark-shaded visor and a Kevlar bulletproof vest.
With about 20 yards between them, the two men began to exchange fire, Willeford using a neighbor's truck as cover.
"I'm a Christian ... and I believe at this point .. the Holy Spirit was on me," said Willeford, "because I had the presence of mind to look at what was going on, and as we exchanged fire, I noticed that the side was one of those tactical vests that velcros across," leaving his side exposed.
In part because of his NRA training but also because of divine intervention, suggested Willeford, he managed to shoot Kelley where he had no Kevlar protection.
Kelley then fled to his vehicle. Willeford continued to fire, blowing out one of Kelley's windows as he took off.
Another local man, Johnnie Langendorff, had driven up in time to witness the shootout. Willeford said he told him that a man just shot up the Baptist Church and we must pursue him. The two men then pursued Kelley at high speeds down Highway 539, some reports saying they hit around 95 MPH during the chase. The men contacted 911 as they pursued, while Kelley checked how many rounds he had left.
When they finally caught up with him, Kelley veered off the road and eventually crashed. Willeford exited the vehicle with his rifle drawn but saw "no movement" in the vehicle. He stayed put, waiting for authorities for several minutes, constantly keeping his weapon trained on the SUV.
Crowder noted that Willeford may have saved other people's lives by his actions. Willeford said while he could not be sure what Kelley's intentions were, he was heavily armed and drove in the direction of another church.
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