Men Hailed as Heroes for Chasing Texas Church Shooter

Two locals chased Devin Kelley as he tried to flee the scene of the Sutherland Springs church shooting.

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs
Image via Washington Post Video Screenshot

Two Texas men are being hailed as heroes for chasing down a man who killed more than two dozen people at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church.

On 5 November 2017, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley killed more than two dozen people — including an 18-month-old infant — when he opened fire inside First Baptist Church at about 11:20 A.M. with what authorities said was an “assault-type” rifle. He fled the scene in an SUV — but not before neighbor Stephen Willeford, 55, burst from his home barefoot carrying an AR-15 and reportedly exchanged gunfire with him. Willeford then ran over to Johnnie Langedorff, 27, a passing truck driver who witnessed the gunfire exchange, and told him the man had just shot churchgoers and needed to be stopped. With that, they were off.

Both Willeford and Langendorff have identified themselves to the news media as the men who initially confronted Kelley. We reached out to Langerdonff, but have not yet received a response. The night of the shooting, however, he told reporters:

The shooter got in his truck and the gentleman with the rifle came to my truck as the shooter took off, and he briefed me quickly on what had just happened and said we had to get him. And so that’s what I did. We speed over 87 through traffic and we hit about 95 [mph] trying to catch this guy until he eventually lost control on his own and [inaudible]. The gentleman that was with me got out, rested his rifle on my hood and kept it aimed at him, telling him to get out, get out. There was no movement, there was none of that… He just hurt so many people. He just affected so many people’s lives. Why wouldn’t you want to take him down?


Langendorff said on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” that he was on the phone with police dispatch while following the shooter’s truck, telling them their location. Authorities were on the scene within minutes. According to CNN, Willeford wounded Kelley in the torso and leg.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CBS News that Kelley walked through the church firing on parishioners. At some point between being confronted by Willeford and leaving the scene, Kelley dropped the weapon:

At that point we believe he dropped his rifle. A citizen was across the street. They engaged in firefight for just a little bit. The suspect gets in his vehicle and takes off. This — I’m calling him a hero here in town — then stops a truck, a guy in a truck and says, ‘I need help, this guy just shot up the church, follow him.’ … There was some gunfire exchanged, I think on the roadway also and then he [the shooter] wrecked out, and then at this time we believe that he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which is assisting local law enforcement with the investigation, told us that the details of the incident are still under investigation.

During a press conference the same day of the shooting, DPS Regional Director Freeman Martin said Kelley was dressed in black and was wearing a ballistic vest. According to authorities, there was no religious or political motive for the attack — the shooting appears to be related to domestic violence.

According to media reports, Kelley has a history of violence and erratic behavior. In 2012, Kelley was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force after he was convicted of assaulting his wife and stepson, fracturing the child’s skull. In 2014, Kelley was charged with animal cruelty for beating a dog. People linked to Kelley on social media also reported that in the days before the shooting, he had been adding strangers at random and picking fights with them online.

Sources

Morgan, David. “Sheriff: Texas Shooting Suspect Apparently Died of Self-Inflicted Gunshot.”
  CBS News. 6 November 2017.

Philipps, Dave, and Oppel, Richard A. “Texas Gunman Had Assaulted Wife and Stepson Before Church Shooting.”
  The New York Times. 6 November 2017.

Associated Press. “Police: Texas Church Attack Stemmed From Domestic Situation.”
  6 November 2017.

McSwane, David. J. “‘I Was Terrified While This Was Going On’ Says Man Who First Confronted Church Shooter.”
  Dallas Morning News. 6 November 2017.

Swenson, Kyle. “An Unlikely Hero Describes Gun Battle and 95 mph Chase With Texas Shooting Suspect.”
  The Washington Post. 6 November 2017.

Rosenberg, Eli, et al. “Who Is Devin Patrick Kelley, the Gunman Officials Say Killed Churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Tex.?”
  The Washington Post. 6 November 2017.