The Sutherland Springs man who came face-to-face with a madman who killed 26 people in a Texas church says God protected him and gave him the skills he needed to stop more deaths. The former NRA instructor engaged Devin Patrick Kelley as he exited the church.
“I’m no hero. I’m not,” Stephen Willeford told 40/29 News reporter Joshua Cole in a video interview on Monday. “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,” Willeford said in an emotional interview. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know what was happening.”
Willeford told Cole the experience was surreal. “I was scared,” he said. “It was surreal to me–it couldn’t be happening.”
After hearing the “pop pop pop pop” sound that was all too familiar to a former NRA instructor, Willeford said he grabbed his rifle and quickly loaded rounds into his magazine. When he stepped out onto the street, he saw a man wearing all black, a tactical helmet, and a ballistic vest.
“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 explained. “He saw me and I saw him.”
He said he took cover and did what he had to do.
Texas officials reported in a press conference Monday night that Devin Patrick Kelley, the killer of 26 in the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, was struck by Willeford’s gun fire two times–once in the torso and once in the leg.” He then dropped his rifle, got in his car, and fled the scene before he could shoot any other people who were outside the church.
Willeford then stopped a passing neighbor and asked for help. “That guy just shot up the Baptist church,” he told the driver. He climbed in the car and together, they took off in pursuit of the deranged killer.
They eventually caught up to Kelley’s SUV shortly before he crashed into a road sign. They later learned Kelley shot himself in the head after calling his father.
Willeford and his companion shouted at Kelley to get out of his truck. There was no movement.
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.
He says he is not a hero–others are sure to disagree.
Other segments of the video interview can be viewed at 40/26 News.