INTERVIEW: Good Samaritan who exchanged in firefight with church shooting suspect

Stephen Willeford (KHOG)
Stephen Willeford (KHOG)

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP/KXAN) — Johnnie Langendorff says he was driving to Sutherland Springs to pick up his girlfriend when a barefooted man who’d been exchanging gunfire with the suspect in a deadly church shooting jumped in his truck.

That man in the middle of the firefight has been identified as 55-year-old Stephen Willeford. In an interview with 40/29 News, Willeford said he was at home when his daughter came into his room and told him she heard gunshots coming from the First Baptist Chuch, which is just down the street.

Willeford grabbed his AR-15 and made his way towards the church — he didn’t even have time to put on any shoes.

“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,” an emotional Willeford told 40/29 News.

“I was scared to death.”

Willeford took protection behind a pickup truck as the gunman, who police identify has Devin Kelley, 26, continued firing. He fired numerous shots at the suspect and he’s confident he hit him.

“I was scared to death. I was. I was scared for me, I was scared for every one of them, I was scared for my own family that lives less than a block away,” said Willeford. “I’m no hero. I am not.”

When the shooter took off in his vehicle, Willeford ran up to Langendorff’s truck to get some help.

“The other gentlemen came and he said we needed to pursue him, that he just shot up the church, so that’s what I did,” explained Langendorff to KSAT. Langendorff says they were driving around 95 mph on FM 539 to catch up to the suspect.

The 27-year-old Langendorrf, who is from Seguin, says he and WIlleford chased the suspect for several miles before he crashed about five minutes in.

“He just lost control and that’s when I put the vehicle in park – because I was still on the phone with dispatch,” said Langendorff. “The other gentleman jumped out and had his rifle drawn and he didn’t move after that.”

Langendorff says they led police there since most of the officers were headed into town to respond to the church.

Authorities found Kelley dead inside his Ford Expedition. While Kelley might have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, he also had a gunshot from the apparent firefight. An autopsy will determine his official cause of death.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said the man who came forward doesn’t want to be called a hero — but the sheriff says he is one.

With additional reporting by the Associated Press.