Stephen Willeford, 55, told the Associated Press he was sitting inside his Sutherland Springs, Texas home when his daughter told him she heard gunfire at the First Baptist Church next door.
“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 Monday during an interview with television stations KHBS/KHOG in Fort Smith and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Willeford grabbed his gun out his safe and ran barefoot to the church where he saw the gunman.
“He saw me and I saw him,” Willeford said. “I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover. I know I hit him. 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.”
Willeford told reporters he was afraid for his life but that he believes God gave him the skills needed to face the shooter.
Though he did not identify Willeford by name, Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin said at a news conference Monday that the armed resident who confronted Kelley was toting an “AR assault rifle and engaged” the shooter.
Martin later praised Willeford and Langendorff: “The number one goal of law enforcement is to neutralize the shooter. In this situation, we had two good Samaritans who did that for law enforcement.”
Willeford says he’s uncomfortable with being referred to as a hero.
“I didn’t want this and I want the focus to be on my friends,” Willeford told The Dallas Morning News for a story published Monday that also confirmed he was the first person to confront Kelley. “I have friends in that church. I was terrified while this was going on.”
Willeford is a former NRA instructor. He told KHBS his family has lived in Sutherland Springs for four generations and he has several friends who attend the church.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.