A former National Rifle Association instructor has come forward as the “good Samaritan” who shot and wounded the gunman who attacked the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Stephen Willeford, 55, has been hailed as a hero for confronting the shooter and forcing him to flee, but he insisted in an interview Monday that “I’m no hero.”
“I think my God, my Lord protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done, and I just wish I could have gotten there faster,” said Mr. Willeford told 40/29 News in Fort Smith-Fayetteville.
Twenty-six people were killed and 20 wounded at the small church Sunday in the worst mass shooting in Texas history.
Mr. Willeford, 55, said his daughter alerted him to the gunshots, after which he removed his rifle from its safe, loaded his magazine, and ran across the street to the church. He didn’t even pause to put on his shoes.
“He saw me and I saw him,” said Mr. Willeford, adding that he stood behind a pickup truck for cover.
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Authorities said at a Monday evening press conference that the suspect, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, was hit twice in the confrontation. He fled the scene but veered off the road into a ditch soon after and died after shooting himself in the head.
“I know I hit him,” Mr. 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.”
He flagged down a driver and the two chased the gunman down the highway, calling 911 en route with a description of their location and the shooter’s Ford Expedition.
Mr. Willeford, who works as a plumber, said he was “scared to death. I was. I was scared for me and for every one of them. And I was scared for my own family that lived less than a block away.”
His family has lived in the area of Sutherland Springs, population 683, for four generations.
“All I want to stress today is that the people in that church, they’re friends of mine. They’re family. And every time I heard a shot, I knew that that probably represented a life,” Mr. Willeford said.
SEE ALSO: Devin Patrick Kelley: An anti-Christian, atheist ‘outcast’