A man being hailed a hero for his efforts in helping stop the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history has been identified by media outlets as a 55-year-old plumber.
Stephen Willeford, 55, confronted the shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, when he was exiting First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the Daily Mail reported. The Dallas Morning News confirmed that Willeford was the shooter.
Willeford told The Dallas Morning News that he wanted to focus on the people who had been killed.
“I didn’t want this and I want the focus to be on my friends,” he said, The Dallas Morning News reported. “I have friends in that church. I was terrified while this was going on.”
Willeford reportedly managed to shoot Kelley before he and Johnnie Langendorff, 27, took after him in a truck, driving 95 miles per hour to hunt him down, the Daily Mail said.
During the car chase, Kelley lost control of his vehicle and crashed. According to police, Kelley was found dead inside the vehicle. It is unclear if he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or the wound he reportedly received from Willeford.
Texas Department of Public Safety Chief Freeman Martin said Willeford “grabbed his rifle and engaged the suspect” after leaving his house barefoot, the Daily Mail reported.
According to the paper, Willeford learned of the shooting when his daughter said there was a man in body armor shooting at churchgoers.
Willeford jumped into a truck driven by a stranger – Johnnie Langendorff – who was headed to see his girlfriend at the time, and told him that people had been shot and they needed to chase after the shooter.
“The neighbor with the rifle came to my truck and he opened my door and said, ‘He shot up the church,’ and got in,” Langendorff told Good Morning America. “He said, ‘Chase him,’ so that’s what I did. I just chase him.”
Langendorff took off after the vehicle and called 911. During the chase, he noticed Kelley’s vehicle starting to swerve and eventually crash.
“Eventually he came to kind of a slowdown and after that, we got within just a few feet of him and he got off the road… He just lost control and that’s whenever I put the vehicle in park… The other gentleman jumped out and had his rifle drawn on him and he didn’t move after that,” he said, KSAT reported.
Kelley killed 26 people and injured 20 more using a Ruger AR-15 variant. Multiple guns were found inside Kelley’s vehicle.
The shooting comes on the eight-year anniversary of the Fort Hood shooting, when Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 at the Fort Hood U.S. Army base; 30 others were injured in the 2009 shooting. Sutherland Springs is 150 miles from Fort Hood.
Kelley was a former U.S. Air Force E1 from 2010 to 2014, and he received a bad conduct discharge after being court-martialed in May 2014 for assaulting his wife and child. He was also sentenced to 12 months confinement and two reductions in rank to basic airman.
Since his discharge was for “bad conduct” and was not a “dishonorable” discharge, he was still able to buy firearms legally. Under U.S. Code, dishonorably discharged military personnel are not allowed to legally purchase a firearm, and this is documented on the ATF’s website.