NRA member, retired plumber, and former firearms instructor Stephen Willeford reached for his AR-15 Sunday morning and exchanged fire with the shooter at the First Baptist Church.
A neighbor to the church where most of the congregation were either killed or wounded during a scheduled morning service, Willeford, 55, talks to NRA TV in the above extended interview about his community and the horror that unfolded over the weekend and his response.
“When my daughter ran in and said the man was in tactical gear with a helmet and body armor — when I opened up the safe I pulled out an AR-15,” Willeford said. “AR-15 is much easier to handle and much easier to aim.”
Grabbing a handful of ammunition (“I was hearing shot after shot after shot and didn’t want to waste time loading a full magazine”) Willeford stuffed rounds into his mag while moving to the sound of the gunfire. He didn’t even take time to put shoes on.
“Those people were my friends,” says the exhausted looking Willeford, choking up. “Those people have known my family. Those people have been here for generations. I kept hearing those shots and I knew every shot might be representing another person getting hit by a bullet.”
Positioning himself behind a neighbor’s pickup truck, he saw the shooter, later identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, turn to get into an SUV. Making eye contact, Willeford said he saw the Kelley fire at him twice, then returned fire with his EoTech-equipped AR.
Willeford, sans shoes but with his rifle in tow, then flagged down local resident Johnnie Langendorff and the pair pursued the wounded Kelley for 11 miles while on the phone with police.
It was then that Willeford checked his magazine and found he only had one cartridge left and one in the chamber — a total of just two rounds.
The pursuit ended with Willeford and Langendorff holding Kelley at bay after he lost control of his vehicle until officers showed up.
In the days since, it has been determined that Willeford hit Kelley, but in the end, the shooter self-terminated. Still, the plumber who “never ever thought that he would be that guy” feels he did the right thing.
“I stopped his aggression and made him run,” says Willeford, who taught his kids to shoot by the time they were 8-years-old. “I turned his fight into flight, and I did what I had to do.”