There’s no bright side to a story like the Texas church shooting. The killer shot as many as 450 rounds, doing his best to murder everyone in the room. But the story of how the massacre finally stopped is worth telling.
The Washington Post published an account this morning based on the experience of Farida Brown, a member of the church who was there every Sunday. Brown was shot four times in the legs and, as the killer went aisle by aisle looking for survivors, she expected a fatal shot was only seconds away. She saw the woman next to her shot four times in the torso and tried to comfort her as she died. Brown’s son David described what happened next:
Up to that point, Farida Brown had sustained only shots to her legs. But as the shooter fired into the woman next to her, she prepared to be slain.
“Then she thought that it was her turn,” David Brown told The Post. “She just started praying.”…
At that moment, she heard a shot fired from a different man, at the front door.
The other man was Stephen Willeford, who lives near the church. Willeford, a certified shooting instructor, grabbed his own rifle and raced out of his house barefoot.
Willeford, a former NRA instructor, exchanged gunfire with shooter Devin Kelley, hitting him at least once. Kelley dropped his weapon and ran for his truck with Willeford still firing at him. In an interview with 40/29 News, Willeford described how he became part of a high-speed pursuit that ended in Kelley’s death:
Willeford spotted a pickup truck at a stop sign. He ran to the truck and asked the driver for help.
“That guy just shot up the Baptist church. We need to stop him,” Willeford told the driver.
Willeford and the driver chased the gunman down the highway. On the way, they called 911 to give a description of the gunman’s vehicle and where they were.
Eventually, they caught up to the gunman’s truck. The gunman slowed down before speeding up and hitting a road sign. The gunman’s truck flipped and went down into a ditch.
Willeford got out and aimed his weapon at the flipped SUV, calling for the suspect to come out. No one moved. Later police would reveal that Devin Kelley had been shot three times, twice by Willeford (in the torso and leg) and once in the head. That final shot was apparently self-inflicted. When Kelley realized he wasn’t going to escape, he killed himself.
Farida Brown underwent surgery and survived the attack thanks to Willeford’s quick intervention. Other survivors may also owe their lives to him since, had he not arrived, the shooter could have continued to target all of the wounded survivors in the church. Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. told CNN, “Had he not done what he did, we could have lost more people.” Tackitt Jr. also said of Willeford, “I’d say he’s a hero.”
Willeford himself told local reporters, “I’m no hero.” It’s what guys like Willeford always say after doing something that not everyone would do. Again, there’s no bright side to a horrible story like this but you do learn that there are some amazing, ordinary people out there willing to step up even in the very darkest of circumstances. Here’s Stephen Willeford telling his story: