A have-a-go-hero helped prevent further victims of the Sutherland Springs gunman by shooting the suspect and then chasing him with another hero, it emerged on Monday.
Stephen Willeford, who lives near the Texas church targeted yesterday, grabbed his own rifle and rushed to confront Devin Kelley after being told an attack was under way by his daughter.
As the 55-year-old arrived outside the church he came face-to-face with Kelley.
Mr Willeford, a plumber with no military experience, shot him in the side through a gap in his body armour, forcing the killer to flee.
Mr Willeford and another passing resident, Johnnie Langedorff, then chased him at almost 100 miles per hour in a car as the wounded killer tried to make a getaway after taking a hostage.
Kelley is said to have killed 26 people – including a child aged five – when he stormed into the church on Sunday dressed in black tactical gear and armed with an assault rifle.
Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said: “The suspect dropped his rifle, which was a Ruger AR assault-type rifle, and fled from the church. The man then chased the gunman.”
Mr Langedorff said: “He got a little bit of a jump on us. So we were doing about 95 miles per hour, going around traffic and everything.
“He just lost control and that’s when 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.”
Mr Langendorff told KSAT television that he was acting on instinct to try to prevent the suspect from escaping.
He said the member of the community asked for help and got into Mr Langendorff’s truck. They took off at high speed in pursuit of the gunman on a nearby highway as police were going in the opposite direction toward the church.
Mr Langendorff said the gunman eventually lost control of his vehicle and crashed. He said the other civilian walked up to the vehicle with his gun drawn and the suspect did not move. He stood guard over the gunman until police arrived five to seven minutes later.
Mr Langendorff said: “I was strictly just acting on what’s the right thing to do.”
Social media users have heaped praise on him.
How the Texas church mass shooting unfolded
One wrote on his Facebook page: “Well done, Johnnie! You’re a true patriot and a hero. Thank you for coming to the aid of those in need, at such a terrible time.”
Kelley was found a short distance away in his crashed vehicle, dead from a bullet wound. He had several more guns in his car, but the hostage was unhurt.
Police believe Kelley committed suicide.
The local sheriff said relatives of the gunman sometimes worshipped at the church but were not there during Sunday’s attack.
“We know that his ex-in-laws or in-laws came to church here from time to time,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. told CNN in an interview. “They were not here yesterday.”
President Donald Trump praised Mr Willeford for preventing further casualties, as he ignored questions about whether the US needs to consider tightening gun laws.
Speaking at a news conference in Japan, Mr Trump said: “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it would have been – as bad as it was – it would have been much worse.”
Kelley served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, and was jailed for one year in 2012 on two counts alleging assault on his wife Danielle Shields and their child.
In 2014, he was kicked out of the military.
Old school friends described Kelley, who lived in nearby New Braunfels, Texas, as a “creep” who made no secret of his anti-religious views.
Nina Rose Nava, who went to school with Kelley, said: “He was always talking about how people who believe in God were stupid and trying to preach his atheism.’
On Kelley’s Facebook page, he appeared to have a fascination with guns. He had recently shared a photo of an AR-15 style gun with the caption: ‘She’s a bad b—-”
Kelley’s mother-in-law, Michelle Shields, is understood to be a parishioner at the First Baptist Church and was friends on social media with First Baptist Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife.
The shooting comes just over a month after a gunman opened fire on an outdoor music festival on the Las Vegas Strip from the 32nd floor of a hotel-casino, killing 58 people and wounding more than 500.