Strangers Who Chased Texas Shooter Share Emotional Embrace at Vigil Held for Massacre Victims
Stephen Willeford and Johnny Langendorff seemed to be two of just a few people in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, who did not know each other.
Now less than 48 hours since they first met, they are forever bonded by both tragedy and their own heroic actions.
On Monday night, the men embraced as the town came together to hold a candlelight vigil for those lost in Sunday’s massacre.
Willeford, 55, lived near the church and after his daughter alerted him to the shooting, he grabbed his rifle and ran to the building barefoot.
“Every time I heard a shot, I knew that that probably represented a life. I was scared to death,” Willeford said of the shooter, in his first interview to the Arkansas-based news outlet KHOG, following the tragedy.
“I was scared for me,” he said. “I was scared for every one of them. I was scared for my own family, who live less than a block away.”
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Nonetheless, Willeford sprung into action.
“He saw me and I saw him. 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 said of the gunman.
As the shooter pulled away in his car, Willeford stopped a nearby pickup truck to ask the driver, Langendorff, for help.
The pair proceeded to follow the gunman and called 911 during their chase.
“The other gentleman who was trying to stop him jumped into [my] vehicle and he said, ‘We gotta get him,’ and I said, ‘Let’s go.’ We blew through this intersection and chased him until he lost control of his vehicle,” Langendorff told PEOPLE.
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With Langendorff behind the wheel, they pursued the gunman until the shooter lost control and crashed.
“We blew through this intersection going about 90-95 [mph] … I was trying to keep up with the other guy [the shooter] until finally, he lost control of his vehicle at [the same] time I parked my vehicle,” Langendorff said.
“We both got out, took refuge behind my truck. [Willeford] jumped out immediately. He turned his rifle onto the gunman and told him to get out,” Langendorff recalled. “There was no movement at the time, traffic was coming around. I went to direct traffic just in case there was crossfire. After that, police showed up.”
The brief pursuit concluded in neighboring Guadalupe County, Texas, where the shooter was later found dead in his vehicle.
Two of the bullets fired by Willeford hit Kelley in the leg and torso before Kelley shot himself in the head, authorities said during a Monday news briefing.