Stephen Willeford exchanged fire with the gunman from the Sutherland First Baptist Church massacre in Texas on Sunday, Nov. 5 but does not consider himself a hero, according to CBS News.
Willeford told CBS News, “Every time I heard a shot, I was thinking it was assigned to someone. He was shooting at another person every time I heard a shot fire, and I didn't have time to put shoes on.”
Willeford shot at the gunman who killed 26 people and wounded 20 others at the church as the congregation met for their normal service.
In a video interview with conservative host Steven Crowder, Willeford said he thought he heard tapping on his window. As he entered to the front room of his house, he could tell it was rapid gunshots. He immediately went to his safe, retrieved his gun, and ran to the sound coming from the church, which was less than a block away from his home.
While crossing his neighbor’s front yard, he saw an SUV with the driver’s door open and the engine running in the middle of the road. Willeford told Crowder, “I saw the shooter come around the front of the vehicle. At this time he had a handgun in his hand. He had a tactical helmet on like the S.W.A.T. team would use and he had a kevlar vest, and you could tell it was bulletproof.”
As a Christian man, Willeford said the “Holy Spirit was on me because I had the presence of mind to look at what was going on, and as we exchanged fire, I noticed… his vest had kevlar in the front and kevlar in the back, but nothing at the sides. I shot between the two kevlar plates.”
Willeford estimated he was about 20 yards away and normally a shot so precise would not be accurate for his gun.
The Washington Post reported that the official autopsy reports show that the gunman had three bullet wounds. Two of the wounds were attributed to Willeford and one was self-inflicted in the head, which authorities believe happened once the shooter knew he was not going to be able to escape.
After his exchange with the gunman, Willeford told Crowder the gunman sped away in his car while Willeford got into the car of a bystander named Johnnie Langendorff. The two followed the shooter until he crashed into a ditch. He was found dead when police arrived.
According to the Epoch Times, 55-year-old Willeford is a skilled shooter who had been an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He taught his children to use guns safely and all of them had earned the rank of NRA distinguished expert, which is the top ranking of the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program.
Despite his emphasis on not being a hero, Bri Lamb, a current Laie resident from Utah, said she defines a hero as “someone who puts their life aside to better benefit the lives of others. This man is most definitely a hero.”
Danielle Knox, a junior from California studying graphic design, said, “It’s great to have a hero in such a terrible tragedy. There is no open end to the case, the gunman did not get away.”
Joshua Cortez, my brother who recently applied for a government job in a bordering town to Sutherland, said he has no fear of moving to a town where such tragedy has occurred. “I’d still go. It hasn’t changed the way I think about the area.
“That incident was an outlier. That could happen anywhere, including where we live now. So in my mind, staying or going wouldn’t increase or decrease the probability of that happening to my family.”