Police have identified Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, as the man who entered the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs during services about 11:20 Sunday morning dressed in black combat gear and opened fire, killing 26 and wounding 20. Kelley reportedly had a troubled history, including instances of domestic violence, while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
According to multiple accounts, Kelley got into a brief firefight with a neighbor after exiting the church. Although authorities have declined to name him, several media outlets have identified him as a plumber named Stephen Willeford.
The New York Post said Willeford grabbed his gun and ran to the scene after his daughter called and alerted him about the incident. The two men exchanged gunfire — Willeford with his rifle, Kelley with a handgun, according to multiple reports. Willeford shot Kelley three times, according to a cousin Willeford asked to speak for him. One of his shots found a gap in Kelley’s body armor, law enforcement officials said.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Willeford said he was barefoot and “terrified” when he confronted Kelley. “I had friends in that church,” he told the newspaper.
“If it wasn’t for him, the guy wouldn’t have stopped,” another neighbor told KENS-TV.
A second man, Johnnie Langendorff, said he saw the men shooting at each other when he drove by the church. “I saw two men exchanging gunfire,” he told KSAT News.
Langendorff said Willeford then approached him: “He said we need to pursue him, he just shot up the church,” he recalled. “So that’s what I did. I just acted. He came to my vehicle in distress. … I knew it was time to go.” The two drove off in Langendorff’s truck.
Kelley sped north on FM 539 in his pearl-colored Ford Explorer SUV. Langendorff said he stayed on the phone with police dispatchers as speeds climbed. “We hit about 95 trying to catch this guy,” he said.
Langendorff also alerted his girlfriend.
During the chase, police said, Kelley contacted his father, a computer executive, to tell him that he’d been shot and that he wasn’t going to live.
Langendorff said no shots were fired during the chase. He said they’d pulled within several feet when Kelley lost control on a curve in the road about 11 miles outside of Sutherland Springs. Langendorff and Willeford jumped out of their car; Willeford trained his rifle on Kelley’s vehicle.
But “he didn’t move after that,” Langendorff said. He said police arrived 5 to 7 minutes later.
Police said Kelley appeared to have shot himself, although autopsy results are pending.
©2017 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.