While the story out of Sutherland Springs is heartbreaking, more astute folks are noting that it could have been worse. After all, when the killer had completed with the carnage inside, he stepped out of the church and into the sights of a man named Stephen Willeford who lived near the First Baptist Church.
Willeford was at home when his daughter came into his bedroom to tell him she heard gunshots at the First Baptist Church nearby.
Willeford, a former NRA instructor, got his rifle out of his safe while his daughter looked outside again. She ran back in and told him she saw a man in black tactical gear shooting up the church.
“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,” Willeford said.”
Willeford loaded his magazine and ran across the street to the church, not even taking the time to put on shoes. When Willeford saw the gunman, he exchanged gunfire.
“He saw me and I saw him,” Willeford said. “I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover.”
“I know I hit him,” Willeford said. “He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window. When the window dropped, I fired another round at him again.”
As the gunman sped away, Willeford approached a pickup truck at a stop sign.
“That guy just shot up the Baptist church. We need to stop him,” he said. Together, Willeford and the driver took off in pursuit. As they caught up to the killer’s vehicle, the truck slowed down. It then sped up eventually went off the road, flipping over into a ditch.
Willeford says he yelled out for the shooter to exit the vehicle, but he didn’t.
That’s because the 26-year-old killer had apparently taken his own life.
In the coming days, as we have seen over the hours since news of this tragedy broke, there will be those who will seek to disarm law-abiding citizens. It’s important that we remember that were it not for Stephen Willeford, the tragedy could have been worse. We’ll never know how much worse it could have been because of his bravery.
Those same voices would have disarmed Willeford. Those same voices would disarm the countless people he’s trained to respond similarly to hostile actions as an NRA instructor.
Willeford has said that he isn’t a hero, but that’s a mistake. He’s the epitome of a good guy with a gun, and that alone makes him a hero. We don’t know how many lives were saved because of his courage and decision to take his personal safety into his own hands. Because of that decision, and his willingness to stand for others, the killer was stopped.
There will be those who claim it was irrelevant, that the killer had done his business in the church, but they forget that it seems likely the church itself wasn’t his target. It was the mother-in-law who was a member there.
Who else could have died because this made has family issues?
Thanks to Stephen Willeford, we won’t actually know.