November 2018

The Hero of the Sutherland Springs Shooting Is Still Reckoning with What Happened that Day

A year in the life of Stephen Willeford, who disrupted the mass murder in his small town’s First Baptist Church and became known as the ultimate good guy with a gun.

Stephen Willeford

Stephen Willeford had just taken a bite of chocolate cake when the stranger approached. It was a warm evening in August, and Willeford was eating at Baldy’s American Diner, just a few miles from his home in Sutherland Springs. He was in a dark corner of the restaurant, out of sight of other patrons in the main dining room, but the stranger and his wife happened to pass by on their way to the restroom.

When the man spotted Willeford, he lingered for a few seconds, staring.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said. He looked to be in his late thirties and was wearing a faded U.S. Marine Corps T-shirt. “I just have to say, you look really familiar, and I can’t figure out how I know you. Can I ask your name?”

Willeford is the sort of guy who blends into most crowds. At 56, he’s balding, a little stocky, and moderate in height, about five feet, seven inches. He is gregarious by nature, almost jolly, which is apt, because he sports a scruffy white Santa Claus beard. His kids used to tease him because he seems to know someone everywhere he goes, and even when he doesn’t, he makes fast friends with strangers. But these days—ever since last November, when media crews from around the world descended on his tiny hometown, the latest ground zero in a mind-numbing string of mass shootings across the country—he knows all the quietest corners of his favorite restaurants. His life barely resembles the one he had before.

“My name is Stephen,” he said, his voice gentle and slow.

The stranger pondered this for a moment, but nothing clicked. “May I ask what it is you do for a living?” By now the man’s wife had emerged from the restroom and stood beside him, puzzled.

It had been nearly a year since that awful November morning, and Willeford’s name and photo had appeared in news stories around the world. The president of the United States had praised him during a press conference and later shaken his hand. A Fox News pundit had thanked God that he “came in and stepped up to the plate and was courageous.” Strangers had sent gifts worth thousands of dollars and invited him on exotic, all-expense-paid trips. Other strangers invoke his name daily while arguing on Twitter. He’s become a coveted public speaker. In May, he appeared before thousands at an NRA convention. Recently, when he addressed a crowd of roughly two hundred at a church near Dallas, more than twenty men lined up to shake his hand and pose for photos.

It had all come to feel like a surreal, never-ending dream.

“I’m a plumber,” Willeford said to the stranger, smiling.

This seemed to be all the man needed. “I thought so,” he said. “I know who you are.” Then he turned to his wife. “Honey, this is the guy who stopped the bad man.”

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

On most Sunday mornings, Willeford would have been 45 minutes away, in San Antonio, at the Church of Christ he and his family had attended since his kids were young. But on November 5, 2017, he decided to stay home and rest up. He was scheduled to be on call the upcoming week at San Antonio’s University Hospital, and he knew he’d inevitably be summoned for a middle-of-the-night plumbing emergency. He had drifted to sleep sometime before 11:30 a.m. when his oldest daughter, Stephanie, came into his bedroom and woke him up. She asked if he heard gunfire.

He did hear something, but to Willeford it sounded like someone was tapping on the window. He looked outside but didn’t see anyone. He pulled on a pair of jeans and went to the living room, where the walls were less insulated. The sound was louder there. It was definitely gunfire, he realized, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

He rushed into a back room and opened his steel gun safe, where he stows his collection of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Without hesitation, he snatched one of his AR-15s. He’d put the rifle together himself, swapping out parts and upgrading here and there over the years. It was light, good for mobility, and could shoot quickly. It wasn’t as accurate as some of his other rifles but good enough to hit the bowling pins he and his friends used for targets. He loaded a handful of rounds into the magazine.

Meanwhile, Stephanie had jumped in her car to drive around the block to investigate. Willeford’s neighborhood, in central Sutherland Springs, consists of modest ranch-style homes and trailers. The town itself is tiny, about six hundred people, a blue-collar agricultural community. Stephanie returned a minute or so later. She told her father she had seen a man wearing black tactical gear at the Baptist church just down the street, about 150 yards away.

Willeford and his family know almost everyone who attends the church. Some of the elder members of the congregation knew his great-grandparents. Each Christmas, he rides his Harley with a motorcycle group from the church that delivers toys to poor kids across the county.

He called his wife, Pam, who was five miles away, drywalling the house the family was building for their youngest daughter, Rachel, who was almost three months pregnant at the time, and her husband. Willeford told Pam that there was an active shooter at the church and asked her to stay put. The last thing he heard before hanging up was her pleading, “Don’t go over there!”

Then he barreled out the front door, down the street toward the church. He didn’t even bother to put shoes on.

Stephanie tried to follow, but he turned and asked her to go back inside and load another magazine for him (he wanted to give her a task so she wouldn’t leave the house).

As he approached the old white chapel, he screamed as loud as he could, “Hey!” To this day, he’s not sure why—he knows that giving away your position is foolish, tactically—but friends inside the church later told him that when the gunman heard Willeford’s cry, he stopped shooting and headed for the front door. “It was the Holy Spirit calling the demon out of the church,” he tells people.

Just as Willeford reached the front yard of Fred and Kathleen Curnow, whose house faces the church entrance, a man wearing black body armor and a helmet with a visor emerged from the church. Willeford scrambled behind the front tire of Fred’s Dodge Ram. The gunman raised his pistol and fired three times. One bullet hit the truck. One hit the Dodge Challenger parked behind him. One hit the house.

Willeford propped his AR-15 on the pickup’s hood and peered through the sight. He could see a holographic red dot on the man’s chest. He fired twice. He wasn’t sure he’d hit him, though he was later told that the man had contusions on his chest and abdomen consistent with getting shot while wearing body armor. Regardless, the gunman stopped shooting and ran for a white Ford Explorer that was idling outside the chapel, roughly twenty yards from where Willeford had positioned himself.

As the shooter rounded the front of the Explorer, Willeford noticed that the man’s vest didn’t cover the sides of his torso. Willeford fired twice more, striking the man once beneath the arm—in an unprotected spot—and once in the thigh.

The man leaped into the vehicle, slammed the door, and fired twice through the driver’s side window. Willeford aimed for where he thought his target’s head would be and pulled the trigger, shattering the driver’s side window completely. The Explorer sped away, turning north onto FM 539, and Willeford ran into the street and got off another shot, this time shattering the SUV’s rear window.

The vehicle roared out of view. For a moment, it seemed he had gotten away. Then Willeford looked to his left and noticed a navy-blue Dodge Ram stopped at a nearby crossroad.

Johnnie Langendorff, a 27-year-old who had driven down from Seguin, thirty minutes north, that morning to visit his girlfriend, had arrived at the intersection across the street from the church just as the gunman walked out and began firing at Willeford. Langendorff had already dialed 911 when Willeford, whom he’d never met, ran toward him, barefoot and brandishing a warm AR-15.

“That guy just shot up the church,” Willeford shouted. “We need to stop him.”

The next thing Willeford remembers hearing was the sound of Langendorff’s doors unlocking. He hopped in the truck, and they sped after the Explorer.

Going north from Sutherland Springs, FM 539 is a two-lane blacktop that winds around craggy hills, through open pastures, past a handful of ranch houses toward Guadalupe County. As they raced after the Explorer, Langendorff topped 90 miles per hour, overtaking four or five other cars along the way. He stayed on the phone with the 911 dispatcher and updated their location every time they passed a cross street. They’d traveled seven or eight miles when they came around a bend and, for the first time, spotted the Explorer a few hundred feet ahead.

“If we catch him, we may have to put him off the road,” Willeford said.

Langendorff nodded. “I already figured that.”

As they closed in on the SUV, it swerved back and forth across both lanes and then, abruptly, careered off the road into a ditch. Langendorff pulled up about five yards behind the Explorer. Willeford clutched the AR-15 in his right hand— he only had two rounds remaining, not enough to survive another shootout—and reached down to open the door with his left. Just as he was stepping out, the Explorer peeled off, plowing through a street sign on its way back to the road. Willeford closed his door. Langendorff stomped on the gas. The SUV made it only a few hundred yards before veering off the road, smashing through a fence, and rolling to a stop roughly thirty feet into a field.

Willeford went to bed feeling anonymous, which was fine with him. “We had no clue what was about to happen,” he says.

Langendorff put the truck in park on the road, about fifty yards from the Explorer. Willeford told Langendorff to duck under the dash as he, for the second time in a span of ten minutes, posted up behind the front tire of a Dodge Ram, perching his rifle on the hood. He screamed at the man in the SUV, who didn’t budge or utter a sound. (He says he isn’t proud of the language he used that day, that he was angry in the moment.) He’s not sure how long he stayed there before hearing the voice of a police officer on a PA behind him.

“Driver, put down your weapon and come out with your hands up,” Willeford remembers the officer saying. When the officer repeated himself, Willeford laid his rifle on the hood and turned toward the squad car.

“Not you!” the officer shouted.

Soon, other officers arrived. To Willeford’s recollection, there were a dozen, at least, from jurisdictions all over the area. Rather than assault the vehicle, they decided to dispatch a drone to inspect the SUV for any movement inside. An officer arrived with the drone after nearly an hour, and through its camera they could see that the gunman was dead in the driver’s seat. Willeford watched as the officers cautiously converged on the Explorer, until they were close enough to peer through the window. The fatal wound was a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

Willeford believes that what happened that day was a battle between good and evil. He says he was terrified, but he thinks the calm he experienced was the Holy Spirit taking over. He tells people he thinks it was the Lord’s hand shielding him as the man doing evil fired over and over again in his direction. And looking back now, he feels like God had been shaping him every day of his life, carving him into the perfect tool for that day.

He grew up with a deeply rooted love for his community, a devotion that was instilled in him by previous generations. During the Depression, his great-grandfather started a trade route between Sutherland Springs and Seguin, bolstering business and helping farmers and shopkeepers in both towns stay afloat through hard times. Growing up, Willeford worked at a local dairy owned by his family. “I squeezed more tits before I was eight than you will your whole life,” he likes to joke.

He started shooting when he was 5 years old. His father had him aiming a bolt-action .22 rifle at Coke cans in the backyard. As he grew older, he was drawn to competition shooting. By his mid-thirties, he could hit the string of a moving balloon from a hundred yards away. With his instruction, all three of his kids, who range in age from 23 to 28, were expert pistol shooters by the time they turned 9. For years, his family’s Church of Christ Bible study group met at a local gun range, gathering each week to shoot for a few hours before going over Scripture.

He’d even had discussions with a police officer friend, long before his encounter with the gunman, about where to aim on a moving target wearing body armor: the side, the hip, the leg. More preparation from God, he believes.

There was a stretch in his life, starting in 1993, when he felt like the Old Testament character Job. On the day before Willeford’s thirty-first birthday, his parents were both killed by a drunk driver. They’d been out for a Labor Day motorcycle ride when a man with four prior DWIs collided with them head-on. The accident was on FM 539, not far from where he and Langendorff concluded their chase. A few weeks later, an arsonist burned down his parents’ house—before he’d had time to sort through his childhood memories.

The day after his parents’ funeral, he and Pam learned she was pregnant. But during a second-trimester checkup, there was no heartbeat. And not long after that, Willeford lost his job. “We maintained our faith through all of it, though,” he says.

So Willeford is “no stranger to pain,” he says, but he remembers crying more the first week after the shooting than he had the rest of his life combined. The first time came on the side of the road, when he was talking to officers. Everything was just so overwhelming.

He was at the scene for four hours, answering questions from various agencies. Because the chase had crossed county lines and because officers from several different jurisdictions responded, Willeford had to tell his story to representatives from three county sheriffs.Then there was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. And then the Texas Rangers. (Later that night, he’d have to repeat it all over again to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.)

His wife, Pam,  showed up at the scene within an hour, relieved to see Willeford alive. He was still undergoing interviews, so she asked a few firefighters if they could give him her Crocs. Even though it was late autumn, the temperature had peaked at close to 90 degrees that day, and she worried about the torrid asphalt against his bare feet.

Every time he talked to someone new, Willeford wanted to know about the people in the church. He wanted names. He wanted to know how many people were hurt. But he couldn’t get a straight answer.

“How bad is it?” he asked over and over.

For most of the afternoon, he was convinced he’d be going to jail, despite repeated assurances from the officers interviewing him. He’s always told people: if you use your gun, even in self-defense, expect to spend a night in jail before it’s all sorted out. He talked to five different law enforcement agencies, but his worries were assuaged only after the district attorney for Wilson County, Audrey Louis, introduced herself and put him at ease. She told him she had friends in that church, and she gave him a hug.

When he finally got home early that evening, the neighborhood was a chaotic mess of police cars, reporters, stunned onlookers, and sobbing mourners. More than twenty people awaited him inside his house: friends from San Antonio, neighbors, extended family who’d heard about what had happened. Everyone was calling, texting, waiting for the latest news on TV. That’s how Willeford and his family first learned how bad it really was.

There were 26 dead and 20 injured. One victim was 77. Another was eighteen months old. Eight of those murdered were children. One victim was pregnant. Three married couples died together, as did a set of three young siblings. A family Willeford had known for years, the Holcombes, lost nine members. Lead pastor Frank Pomeroy, who typically carries a gun to services, was out of town that day, but his 14-year-old daughter was among the  dead. Before going outside to shoot at Willeford, the gunman had gone through fifteen 30-round magazines.

The memorial lining the fence around the new church building, under construction.

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

Stone markers dedicated to victims outside of the old chapel.

Stone markers dedicated to victims outside of the old chapel.

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

Left:

The memorial lining the fence around the new church building, under construction.

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

Right:

Stone markers dedicated to victims outside of the old chapel.

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

Willeford assumed the reporting was wrong. The air felt thick and hard to breathe. Nothing made sense.

At a press conference that night, Governor Greg Abbott confirmed the grim facts. He thanked the litany of officials and agencies who had responded to what they now realized had been the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history. A Department of Public Safety representative told the scrum of cameras that a local citizen had responded to the shooting with his own rifle and then chased down the suspect. A reporter asked if that citizen’s name was going to be released to the public. The answer was no.

Willeford went to bed feeling anonymous, which was fine with him. Preferable, in fact. “We had no clue what was about to happen,” he says.

Most mass shootings barely even register with the American public anymore. In 2017 alone, there were more than three hundred shooting incidents in which at least four people were injured or killed, and few of them made national headlines. Sutherland Springs was different, though.

For one, the sheer number of victims was staggering. That it also happened in a small town, the kind of tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone, contributed to the shock. But there was another element that made the tragedy a singular event. There was Stephen Willeford.

For years, the mass shootings that have garnered national attention have resulted in a predictable public debate between advocates of stricter gun control measures and people arguing that, as NRA leader Wayne LaPierre famously put it after twenty schoolchildren were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Willeford had become a lead character in a national debate. He was the ultimate good guy with a gun.

When he woke up the morning after the shooting, there were a few fleeting seconds before he remembered what had happened and all the grief and sadness returned. He got up and turned on the news, and he was surprised to see his name and face on the screen. Soon he was staring at a live broadcast from his front yard.

For the next few days, it seemed as though every fifteen minutes someone new knocked on his door and asked to speak with him. Reporters from networks and newspapers all across the world piled notes and business cards on his doorstep. He was marooned in his own home. Eventually the sheriff warned reporters to stay off his property or risk jail time. But officers also told him that he’d have to give an interview at some point if he ever wanted the circus to move on.

One of the first interviews he agreed to was with conservative YouTube personality Steven Crowder (Willeford’s daughter Rachel is a fan). It was the day after the shooting, and his emotions were still raw. “I’m having all kinds of issues,” he confessed. “I can’t put my finger on what my feelings are.”

He refused attempts to lionize his efforts. “I want the focus to go to the families, to the community that I grew up in, the people that I love there, the people that I know,” he said. “The church was a very small congregation, and [26] people are dead. Children are dead. Twenty or so are injured. That’s decimated their congregation. There’s very few left in their congregation.”

He became emotional while lamenting the fact that he couldn’t grieve with the rest of the community. “They’re having a memorial at the baseball stadium, and the media’s gonna be there. Guess who can’t be there if the media’s there? I wanna hug some of these people.”

Because information within the community was unreliable at that point, and officials had yet to release the names of the victims, “I don’t even know which ones of my friends made it and which didn’t,” he told Crowder.

In the following days, several politicians arrived in town. Willeford spent time with Senator Ted Cruz and Vice President Mike Pence. His district’s U.S. representative, Henry Cuellar, invited him to be his one allotted guest at the 2018 State of the Union Address. Later,  Senator John Cornyn called.

One day in December, not long after Willeford had gone back to work at the hospital, he was repairing a steam leak with his supervisor when his cellphone buzzed. He showed his boss who was calling: the office of Senator Cornyn. They wanted to arrange a meeting when Willeford was in Washington, D.C., for the State of the Union. He’d just gone back to fixing the leak when he got a call from Cuellar. And not long after that, Cruz called.

In January, Willeford and his wife were flown to Washington, D.C., for the State of the Union. While there, they spent time with Cruz and Cornyn, and they were escorted on special tours, right past the signs that read “No Tours Past Here.”

“I feel like the prettiest girl at the prom,” Stephen told Pam. “Everyone wants to dance with me.”

A few months later, he was invited to be a guest of honor at the NRA’s national convention in Dallas in May. The organization paid for a block of suites for him and his family at the Omni Hotel, where, for the first time in his life, he ordered room service. At the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, he delivered a speech to a crowd of thousands. “We are the people that stand between the people that would do evil to our neighbors,” he said. “I’m nothing special. Look at you guys. Every one of you would do what I did. And I love you all.” He received multiple standing ovations.

In the halls, everywhere he went, a crowd formed. There was an endless stream of handshakes and photos, more thank-yous, more names he’d try to remember but wouldn’t. He once again spent time with Cruz and  Pence, and he had his picture taken with Donald Trump. “I think I could meet Trump tomorrow and he wouldn’t recognize me,” Willeford says. “But Mike Pence would. And Ted Cruz knows me well.”

Willeford is fully aware why he’s so popular among a certain segment of society. He knows that he’s become a symbol; his actions that day make the perfect story for gun rights advocates to tell. Not only did he use his personal firearm to stop an active shooter, he did it with an AR-15, the same type of gun used in many mass shootings, including this one. Willeford has starred in an NRA commercial. “It’s not the gun, it’s the heart,” he says. And he agrees with many of the arguments strangers are making when they cite his name. If AR-15s were banned, he would have been less well equipped to defend himself and his friends, he says.

But he didn’t ask to be a citation in someone else’s debate. His experience is more than a data point. Those seven minutes ravaged his community.

All he ever prayed for was a simple life. He wanted only to be a faithful man, a good husband and father, an upstanding member of the rural community where his family has resided for seven generations. He finds it strange to be constantly thanked for—and reminded of—one of the most painful experiences of his life. He says he can’t wait for a whole day to pass when it never comes up. He doesn’t consider himself a hero. The word makes him uncomfortable.

“If you’re breaking it down into heroes and survivors, I’d rather be with the survivors,” he says. “I got shot at too.”

Late this summer, Willeford wanted to “put a few rounds through” a new AR-15 given to him by the owner of the San Antonio–based Sons of Liberty Gun Works, so he drove a few miles outside of town, onto the property that his great-grandfather purchased with profits from that Depression-era trade route. He entered the gate, and the shocks on his old Mercury Grand Marquis squeaked as he rolled past a dozen mama cows and their calves. He made his way to the back of the plot, where he maintains a makeshift gun range.

The AR-15 given to Willeford by the founder of the San Antonio–based Sons of Liberty Gun Works.

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

When the owner of Sons of Liberty learned that the rifle Willeford had used on the morning of the shooting had been confiscated and had yet to be returned, he insisted on building him a new one. It’s painted a desert camouflage, with a brown Texas flag on one side and a passage from Romans 13:4 on the other: For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

It’s one of several guns presented to Willeford in the past year.

He loaded a few rounds and aimed the AR-15 at a paper target fifty yards away. He took three shots, and all three struck the two-inch-wide red bull’s-eye.

“Oh, this is nice,” he said. “It’s lighter than it looks.”

He pulled out another AR-15 that had been given to him, painted like the Texas flag. That one, he said as he loaded a magazine, is probably the most similar to the custom rifle he used outside the church. He also fired off a few rounds with a suppressed Daniel Defense 300 Blackout, a gift from a friend. When finished with the rifles, he loaded his Kimber 1911 pistol. He tossed an empty water bottle into the grass thirty or forty feet away and fired at it four, five, six times, making the plastic bottle dance across the pasture. The entire afternoon, he didn’t miss once. 

He could have stayed out there all day—and sometimes he does—but there were storm clouds on the horizon, so Willeford packed each gun into its case and loaded them into the trunk of the Grand Marquis. Then he drove slowly through an alleyway of trees and paused beside a narrow stream that flows across the property. His family’s plot used to be three times as big, but his older brother and younger sister sold their portion of the land years ago, something that Willeford would never consider. This is where he comes to think. Once, when a young man asked permission to date his daughter, he brought him here to camp  before giving his blessing.

Currently he rents the acreage to someone with a cattle business, which pays just enough to cover the property tax. But Willeford’s dream is to one day build a house here. And maybe a house for each of his children and their spouses, all of whom live nearby. “We’d all be here, on my great-grandfather’s land,” he said. “The grandkids could all run from house to house and play together.”

Willeford at the gun range on his family’s land.

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

Over the previous few months, he’d been approached by book publishers and speaking agents offering potentially lucrative deals. He’d been told he could start a security consulting company to help churches protect against shooters. He has good reason to believe that the gun he used that day is the type of thing a wealthy gun collector would be willing to pay a lot for. (Law enforcement recently returned the rifle to him in a ceremony at the church.) Willeford pondered whether this all might be a way to build his dream house.

He likes his job at the hospital in San Antonio, where several children from the church were treated after the shooting. He’s proud to tell people that every child treated there that day is still alive. He doesn’t mind the hour-long commute, and the benefits are great. He doesn’t want to take on anything that might jeopardize that.

He worries about Pam sometimes. She says she’s still in a fog, and she has trouble sleeping. While he gets to talk about his experience all the time—which he finds strange, but it’s a sort of therapy nonetheless—Pam mostly keeps to herself. But she suffered trauma that day too.

She still remembers his phone call, remembers rinsing the drywall off her hands and rushing to the church with her daughter Rachel. She remembers Rachel comforting a young girl outside who’d lost her mother and three siblings. Rachel asked the girl about her favorite movie. As the two of them sat together and began singing songs from Moana, Pam noticed blood matted in the girl’s hair. That’s when it struck her how bad this really was.

Before the massacre, the average attendance at the church was about fifty people. Now it’s around two hundred. Against all odds, it has become a place of healing.

She searched for Willeford but found only the brass shells he’d left behind. She heard there had been a crash and insisted her daughter not go with her to the scene. She didn’t know what she’d find when she got there.

Now, she often travels with Willeford—to Dallas, to Washington, D.C., to his various speeches. As people line up to thank him, to shake his hand and marvel at what he did that day, Pam mostly stays to herself, texting her kids or scrolling through pictures of their granddaughter. She’s supportive of her husband, but like Willeford, she’s unsure what they’re supposed to do next.

So this is what they pray about most.

“We’re just looking for some direction,” he says.

Willeford sees the crosses outside the Baptist church every day. Each bears the name of a victim. He sees the impromptu memorial that formed along the fence beside the chapel. It’s still up, nearly a year later. Most of the flowers have wilted, but new tributes to loved ones still show up on occasion. Just seeing the little white building, which has been the center of town since long before Willeford’s time, is a constant reminder.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the community expected that the old chapel, the site of so much carnage, would be demolished. But it wasn’t. The pews were removed, the windows were replaced, the walls and ceiling were painted white. The room became a memorial, with white chairs marking where each victim was sitting that morning.

Thanks to donations that came in after the shooting, the church is erecting a new building—much bigger than the one before—in what was an empty field on the same plot of land. For now, the congregation gathers for Sunday services inside a temporary building on the property. Before the massacre, the average attendance at the church was about fifty people. Now it’s almost two hundred.

Willeford’s family had always attended the Church of Christ. That’s where he was raised and where he and Pam raised their three kids. (They used to joke that Church of Christers went to Sunday services earlier so they could beat the Baptists to lunch.) But the church was 45 minutes away, in San Antonio, and after the shooting, he wanted to worship alongside his fellow survivors. That’s what compelled him to join the Baptist church this summer.

Soon after, at a Sunday service in June, Willeford met Danielle Kelley. Her husband was the man in tactical gear that morning, the man who’d caused all this pain, the man Willeford had shot twice. Kelley’s mother is a longtime member of First Baptist. Neither woman was there during the shooting, but Kelley’s grandmother was among those killed.

Willeford talked to Kelley for only a few minutes that day, but he often replays the conversation in his mind. She told him she didn’t feel any ill will toward him, that she understood he’d done the right thing. Willeford was grateful. He doesn’t regret his pursuit of the gunman, but he’s glad he didn’t have to fire the fatal shot. “We aren’t designed to take the life of another person,” he says. “It damages us. It changes us.”

Kelley told Willeford she was focusing on raising her two children, both under the age of four, as a single mother. He realized that her baby and his granddaughter were born less than a year apart. If they both grow up here, they’ll almost certainly know each other.

Then the young mother mentioned her deceased husband.

“You know,” she said, “he wasn’t always evil. He just lost himself.”

Willeford said he knew exactly what she meant. He told her about his older brother, Delbert, who’s serving twenty years in Colorado for attempted murder. He’d been a good man, successful in business, always kind to Willeford’s kids. “But one day he lost himself too.”

Willeford told her he believes that evil spirits can enter into anyone’s life if they allow it. Then he asked the woman if they could pray together.

Willeford doesn’t have nightmares about that day. Or, if he does, he’s fortunate not to remember them when he wakes up. Most of the time it’s not difficult for him to maintain a positive outlook. He knows there is far more good in this world than bad.

But sometimes his thoughts can wander.

Occasionally he asks himself: “How could anyone see a crying child and shoot them?”

Willeford doesn’t have nightmares about that day. Or, if he does, he’s fortunate not to remember them when he wakes up.

And now that investigators have reviewed video of the event, Willeford knows the order in which the victims were shot. Survivors have told him exactly what was happening the moment they heard him yelling outside—the second the gunman stopped executing people and left.

So in those moments, when his mind is unoccupied, here is what Willeford is fated to ponder: if he’d arrived fifteen seconds sooner, Kris Workman might still be able to walk. If he had been there a minute earlier, Workman’s mother, Julie, might not have a bullet hole in her leg. If he’d gone running when he first heard the tapping on his bedroom window, maybe he could have saved some of the children.

When these thoughts start to consume him, he’s learned to remind himself he did the best he could. Sometimes, to get his mind off of it, he spends time with his four-month-old granddaughter. Sometimes he walks across the street to his friend Mike Jordan’s house.

Willeford doesn’t drink much—he’s never had more than two beers in one sitting—but he enjoys hanging out on Jordan’s front porch, sipping his buddy’s home brew. On most Saturday nights, Willeford and some of his closest friends gather at Jordan’s. They each bring a gun or two, drink one of Jordan’s latest concoctions, and trade crude jokes and old stories.

On a recent Saturday, they downed a homemade IPA as one of Willeford’s friends showed off his new AR-15. Jordan brought out his .454 pistol, while Willeford proudly displayed the rifle he was given by the Sons of Liberty. He passed it to Jordan, who read from the Bible verse printed on its side. Jordan checked the chamber to make sure it was empty before pressing it to his shoulder to look through the sight.

“Nice,” he said.

As he handed it back to Willeford, Jordan told the group, with a smile, that if he had been home that day, it all would have been different. “I can see the church doors from my bathroom window,” he said. He would have responded the same way Willeford had, only he would have shared the free guns with his friends, he teased.

Willeford just laughed and shook his head.

They stayed there on the porch, drinking and talking—about the time Jordan hit a water line while shooting at a skunk; about how the media shouldn’t use meaningless phrases like “assault rifle”; about whether there will be a circus surrounding the one-year anniversary in a few weeks—till it was nearly midnight.

Willeford was up early for breakfast at church the next morning, though. Before the sermon, Pastor Pomeroy led a Bible study over coffee and biscuits in one of the church’s large classrooms behind the old chapel. On this day, there were about forty adults in the room, with a few kids darting in and out.

Before the discussion began, Willeford made his way around the room to greet as many people as possible. At one table was David Colbath, who was shot eight times that day. At another was Jennifer Holcombe, who lost her husband and eighteen-month-old daughter in the shooting in addition to seven other family members. Willeford waved to a little girl whose pelvis had been shattered by a bullet. The room was full of people healing together.

When everyone had taken a seat, Pomeroy, who was still mourning the death of his own daughter, explained that today’s discussion would be about the book of Acts, chapter 16, in which the disciple Paul figured out what God wanted for him—something that seems particularly relevant to the lives of the survivors right now.

“You can see, God doesn’t speak in a thunderous voice,” Pomeroy told the group. Others around the room agreed.

Willeford nodded. Then he interjected, “Sometimes I wish he would.”

“Remember,” Pomeroy said, “man can’t always comprehend God’s plans.”

“I know,” Willeford said. “But if God would just tell me what to do, I’d run at it like a bulldog.”

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

Soon they all walked over to the temporary building where the church currently holds Sunday services. As Willeford settled in for the sermon, there was an announcement: instead of Pomeroy’s preaching, the congregation would be treated to a presentation by the children from the church’s vacation Bible school. For nearly an hour, Stephen and Pam watched three dozen children sing and dance and perform skits about dedicating themselves to Jesus Christ.

“This,” he whispered, “is the future of Sutherland Springs.”

When the service ended, the Willefords lingered, catching up with some of the other survivors until it was close to 1 p.m. Then they headed home, past the small white chapel, past the site of the shoot-out, past the flowers and crosses in the makeshift memorial, and past the church’s marquee. The top of the sign is blue, with an image of a white dove and a Bible next to a cross. Below that it reads, “Evil did not win!”

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Hero’s Burden.” Subscribe today.

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Tags: Crime, Stephen Willeford, Sutherland Springs, Sutherland Springs shooting

Comments

  • Common Sense

    I don’t know the right words to say about this article, but man what a story. Thank you for this intelligent and sincere reminder of that horrible Texas tragedy. Never forget.

  • SpiritofPearl
    • Silander North

      Mass shootings and killings are unfortunately far from unique to America. The link below has an interactive map where you can browse mass public shootings by country:

      CPRC: How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings: U.S. Rate is Lower than Global Average

      Quote:

      By our count, the US makes up less than 1.43% of the mass public shooters, 2.11% of their murders, and 2.88% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average.

      • SpiritofPearl

        “The gun lobby’s favorite academic.”

        https://thinkprogress.org/debunking-john-lott-5456e83cf326/

        • ScarletPimpernel

          I think you’re the fraud. You’re obviously not interested in the victims at this church (because it was a church?), because you didn’t even mention them.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Fewer assault weapons. Fewer gun deaths.

          • FiftycalTX

            Fewer swimming pools, fewer swimming pool deaths. You got any more historic quotes? Oh, are people killed with hands, feet, fists, clubs, knives and “other” LESS DEAD? Because long guns of ALL types kill fewer people than hands and feet. How you gonna “regulate” that?

          • SpiritofPearl

            You bore me.

          • FiftycalTX

            Too bad komrade. Don’t have a response, do you. Not surprising. When confronted with FACTS little lefties always run away. And I’m not in charge of your boredom. If I were, I’d have you study the Constitution instead of “Das Kapital” or the “communist manifesto”. Why don”t you give “Beto” a few hundred dollars? I’m sure he can make better use of it. After all, his wife is only worth about $20 billion. Real “man of the people”.

          • SpiritofPearl

            This makes me laugh!

          • Firewagon

            The ignorant and ill-informed are easily bored. Have not the attention span capable of acquiring ‘logical,’ correct information.

          • SpiritofPearl

            The Good Old White Boys’ Club who comment on TM are out in force on this topic. They have great fear these days.

          • Firewagon

            As some woman answered when asked if why she carried a firearm was because she was afraid: “Why should I be afraid, I’m the one with the gun!”

          • SpiritofPearl

            She fears the wrong thing.

          • James O Donnell

            Fair enough. You disgust me.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Oh good! I’m blocking you you so we can both forgo the Pepto Bismol.

          • James O Donnell

            That’s what pathetic cowards who can’t back up their nonsense with facts and logic love to do.

          • Firewagon

            Same old dream of Nirvana in this world. The first human died shortly after another human(?) discovered the job could be done with a rock or club! “Can’t we all just get along?” Not in this world! BTW, as to that “assault weapon” claim – Try telling ANYONE killed by someone not using a gun that they were NOT killed with some “assault weapon!” That ban on “assault rifles,” in the 90’s, proved ineffective at impacting crime or killings, less than 1/10th of 1% – it is simply a ‘tool’ to influence the ignorant and ill-informed!

          • SpiritofPearl

            Do your homework.

          • Firewagon

            Uh, no. That should be your goal. You should also consider an attempt to educate yourself on ‘what has changed’ in America over the past fifty-odd years. America has been an armed society since shortly after Columbus sailed the oceans blue in 1492! Just over fifty years ago, HS “children” rode school buses with their .22 caliber rifles for that day’s rifle practice at school! It was not just in the rural country, either, was done in NY – as you say, do your homework. Nobody, children, bus drivers, teachers, NOBODY was shot, not even accidentally. Kids, in the America I grew up in, were not “killing other kids” with any gun or, anything for that matter! Today, they are killing each other by the thousands – MASS shootings should be so productive. The availability of guns, much less the type of gun, is NOT anywhere close to being a “causative issue.” Discover WHY America is no longer the country I grew up in, and you may get close to an answer that has little to do with guns! First requirement, however, is to quit reading after those Liberal rags that have NO solutions, just knee-jerk reactions.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Citations. Otherwise your opinion has no value.

          • Firewagon

            Nothing I stated was “opinion!” If you can’t tell the difference, it is no wonder you remain clueless. Information as well as statistics are available. If you are as intelligent as you believe yourself to be, LOOK IT UP. Better, if you retain any reading comprehension ability, do some reading and research. John Lott is one author you might research. Chicago crime & murder stats another – your epiphany will be realizing that on EVERY weekend more people are shot and nearly as many killed as happened in that Synagogue! That is in ONLY one metropolitan city – NY, SF, LA, Detroit, etc., etc. – Mass shootings in this country are, by comparison, like a rain drop in the ocean.

          • SpiritofPearl

            I don’t need to know the difference. You have to prove your thesis. You have not.

            No citations. No respect.

          • Firewagon

            One more time, as your ability to comprehend simple statements that are facts is woefully lacking. The post you are replying to was NOT opinion, or some “thesis,” every statement is a fact. Detailing those facts with FBI stats, etc., would be beyond the capability of those with compromised attention spans. If you want to be informed, and make semi-intelligent comments on some subject, you should do your “homework.” As they say, ‘you’ can look it up! You won’t read Mr. Lott’s results, because it does not fit your ideology. You simply repeat, like a lemming, the talking points of the ‘gun confiscation’ whacks.

          • SpiritofPearl

            You generate heat, but no light, a broken record. Bye now.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Lott has already been debunked as a biased activist for the gun industry.

          • James O Donnell

            Argument by assertion. Terribly convincing.

          • SpiritofPearl

            There’s a link somewhere. You have fear.

          • James O Donnell

            I spent 30 years as a soldier and a cop. There aren’t many things I fear — certainly not snide little dimwits such as yourself.

          • James O Donnell

            Actual reality: hundreds of millions more guns in the US over the last 20 years, and the US murder rates — and “gun deaths” — have DROPPED by more than 50%.

            Stupid lefties gonna be stupid, no matter what the facts say.

        • Silander North

          Think Progress, LOL, the guys whose contribution to public discourse has been to scrap the NRA’s car rental coupons…

          I notice that you didn’t read the article, right?

          • SpiritofPearl

            I did. Bogus. Car rental coupons?

          • Firewagon

            Give up on this guy, just another Shumer, Pelosi, Soros troll. You waste your time attempting to have a ‘logical,’ informed, discussion with the illogical and ill-informed that prefer to remain ignorant, or are so blinded by their own ill-conceived dogma they are incapable of reason.

    • FiftycalTX

      Yah, let’s get rid of “weapons of war”! That will do the trick. Oh, problem. Please name which guns were NOT designed as a “weapon of war”. Well, the muzzle loader was the first “weapon of war”. Like the rifles they used at the Alamo. So no muzzle loaders. Then there was bolt action about 1870. A lot of people use them now for deer hunting, but they are a “weapon of war” so those go also. About the same time just before 1900 semi-autos and machine guns were introduced and THEY were “weapons of war” as seen in all wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. And of course, ALL HANDGUNS were similarly designed as a “weapon of war”. So the answer is what all the gun grabbers want it to be. Confiscate them all.
      DISARM THE PUBLIC! Because then and only then can the SOCIALIST UTOPIA be instituted. Citizens have guns. Slaves don’t.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Citizens in most parts of the world do not have guns.

        • FiftycalTX

          Not my problem. Citizens have guns. Slaves don’t. You figure it out.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Study. You are woefully ignorant.

          • FiftycalTX

            “Study ” what? White guilt? You can have mine, I don’t use it. “Blame the USA firster”? I’m not a member. I am not responsible for the troubles of the world. So yo can have my share.

          • SpiritofPearl

            People who believe guns make them “free” are enslaved by fear. It’s genetic.

          • SpiritofPearl

            What does “white guilt” have to do with gun control? Mixed metaphor.

          • JP

            I give up. What slaves own guns?

          • SpiritofPearl

            Bubbas.

          • JP

            Bubbas are slaves?

          • SpiritofPearl

            Yup.

          • JP

            Well…that is news.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Reality bites.

          • JP

            I don’t see any bite marks on you.

        • JP

          And most parts of the world seem to want to “caravan” here. Odd, right?

          • SpiritofPearl

            Honduras . . .

          • JP

            They seem to still want to come here in spite of guns.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Where do you think the guns in Latin America come from?

          • JP

            Fast and Furious. 🙂

          • SpiritofPearl
          • JP

            Fast and Furious was a program that attempted to track guns going into Mexico. It did not work out well.

            But yes, Mexico is right next door to the U.S. so what you can get here goes there, and vice versa.

          • VA-Scott

            No, the whole POINT was that they were NOT tracked. It was a scheme to blame border gun stores for weapons in Mexico.

          • John A Majane III

            The 90% figure is incorrect. A great deal of them are chinese and eastern block manufacture.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Where are they purchased?

          • John A Majane III

            Cuba, China

          • James O Donnell

            The Mexican government only submitted obviously-US-made guns to the BATFE for tracing. The bulk of cartel guns are from China and the former Soviet Bloc, many supplied in the ’80s to Soviet-backed guerrillas in Central America. This is obvious when one looks at the photos of confiscated weapons released by the Mexican police and military: full-auto — not US civilian-legal — AKMs and Type 56s, Viet Nam-era M16A1s (supplied to El Salvadoran guerrillas by the Vietnamese government) and other ordnance unavailable in the US.

          • Peter Montbriand

            Belgium(FN), Germany(H&K), Czech Rep(CZ), you name the country and firearms are shipped from there.

          • SpiritofPearl

            They are SOLD in Texas along the border.

          • James O Donnell

            Except that they are NOT. The alleged “90% US origin” guns were OVERWHELMINGLY guns sold by the US government to the Mexican government.

            The “90%” were submitted to the US BATFE for tracing BECAUSE THEY WERE MARKED AS MADE IN THE US.

            They were a small fraction of the firearms seized in Mexico. The largest portion were Soviet Bloc firearms that had been supplied to guerrilla groups in El Salvador and to the government of Nicaragua, or ex-US military rifles left behind in Viet Nam and subsequently supplied to Soviet-supported guerrillas in Central America.

          • SpiritofPearl

            James, James. I live in TX. There is an informal gun seller about every half mile along the Rio Grande.

          • James O Donnell

            Spare us your bullsh it. I spend years in law enforcement in the US southwest. US civilian guns are a tiny portion of the guns in use by the cartels.

            I presented facts. You’ve managed to vomit up nothing more than discredited political talking points.

          • John A Majane III

            No but the point is no matter how awful you make this country out to be people will come here because it is better than most of the world if not all of it. If you think India is such a paradise by all means go.

          • SpiritofPearl

            I have. Twice.

          • John A Majane III

            Why don’t you stay if you think it is so great? I am sure crime is very low there right?

          • SpiritofPearl

            Mi familia.

            Murder rate is lower than the U.S. No guns.

            Bye now.

          • James O Donnell

            Go and stay.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Nope. My life’s goal is to bring rationality to bubbas, one day at a time. Don’t shoot one of your children while you play Rambo.

          • James O Donnell

            Yawn. You couldn’t find a rational thought in your head if you had someone smash it open with a 10 pound sledge.

          • Joe Dick

            Most of the world doesn’t. Quality of life in the U.S. is really pretty low.

          • JP

            We don’t seem to have a shortage though. Then again, a number of other countries don’t either but they sure do have some tough entry standards.

          • James O Donnell

            Can I give you a lift to the airport and $20 towards a one-way ticket to your shitho le country of choice?

          • Joe Dick

            I’m not American. I’ve visited, and while there are many nice areas there are also many parts where it’s like a third world country.

          • James O Donnell

            So then it’s none of your damned business.

          • perks

            exactly

        • Peter Montbriand

          And no other country has a 2nd ammendment. Good luck with your fantasies. 😉

          • SpiritofPearl

            The right has corrupted the second amendment. Good luck with YOUR fantasies.

          • James O Donnell

            We’ll make do.

            YOUR fantasies on the other hand, are going to have something of a rough time with the current Supreme Court. And Trump’s got another 2 years of a Republican Senate majority to supply replacements for Justices Ginsburg and Stevens — and maybe a couple of the other lefties if things work out properly.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Kavanaugh doesn’t seem to follow orders. Another Souter?

          • James O Donnell

            Keep whistling past the graveyard. He already issued pro-Second Amendment decisions in a very hostile environment. Keep fantasizing that he won’t do so for decades to come.

        • John A Majane III

          Yep some of the most violent places in the world.

      • Joe Dick

        Well, of course the gun was invented in the first place as a weapon of war, but it seems like if you live in such fear all the time that you need a gun, maybe a slave is what you are.

        • James O Donnell

          The first thing that slavers do is disarm their slaves.

          Come and try, douche-bag.

    • ScarletPimpernel

      No, let’s not.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Why are you afraid?

    • cedarbend

      You read this whole essay and this is your comment choice? How small and sick.

  • Baba Yaga

    Libs would let innocents die with their fascistic anti-gun views. Libs love death….not their own of course being the hypocrites they are.

    • G. David

      So the good guy with a gun kills the bad guy with a gun. After the bad guy kills 26 and injures 20. You call that a victory?

      • John A Majane III

        No he stopped the carnage, if it were not for him it could have been many more. No one won in this tragic event but this man put his life on the line to protect others and the fact he had a gun enabled him to do so.

        • Joe Dick

          Massacres like this seem to happen anywhere these days, but happen a lot more in places with the gun culture of the good ol’ US of A.

          • John A Majane III

            Except more die in Chicago in a month then all the mass shootings in a decade. But I guess those deaths are acceptable because of who controls that area and who is dying.

          • Joe Dick

            That may be true, but I don’t recall mentioning Chicago as a paradise – or mentioning it at all. Chicago is still in the good ol’ U.S. of A and still has a huge gun culture. Swing and a miss, John A Majane III.

          • John A Majane III

            No Joe you show how hypocritical you are. It is okay for more young african americans to die in Chicago because it bolsters the cause. WIth the left you guys always believe the ends justify the means.

  • chuck earl

    Great article .All churches should have concealed carry parishioners.
    What if’s to include ..gun not already loaded? gun in a safe?
    where I live many carry open and concealed to church and grocery store.Its better that way.

    • SpiritofPearl

      Many would find a different church or grocery store.

      • Yes, because we all know exactly when, where, and who is going to invade the church and grocery store to do us harm. That allows us to pick the “right one.”

    • Joe Dick

      I would hate to live in fear like that.

      • James O Donnell

        Normal people live in fear of the harm that evil men can do.

        You live in fear of your law-abiding decent neighbors.

        Tell us just who has a problem here?

        • Joe Dick

          Tell us just who has a problem here?

          You, obviously.

          • James O Donnell

            It’s pretty obvious who hates and fears ordinary decent people.

            Seek help for your disorder.

            Or just eat shi t and die, either works.

      • VA-Scott

        Do you own a fire extinguisher?
        I would hate to live in fear like you do.

        • Joe Dick

          House fires are a little more common, and a fire extinguisher or sprinkler system is a reasonable precaution. To live somewhere with such crime that you need to walk around with a gun, though, that’s a place you need to get out of if you can. Nice try, but you’re obviously not very bright. …I take that back, it wasn’t a nice try at all.

          • “more common”

            Let’s ask the people of Sutherland Springs if they expected anything other than a “common” Sunday worship service.

            And if you want to talk about “bright” I would suggest that anyone such as you who are unhappy that Mr. Willeford was able to provide some measure of protection to his neighbors doesn’t quite fit the category of bright.

          • Joe Dick

            Maybe you don’t understand the analogy, or know what an analogy is. House fires happen all the time. Mass shootings are extremely rare. Get it? Probably not.

          • I am sure the good folk of Sutherland Springs appreciates your disdain of their experience.

          • James O Donnell

            If you’re so afraid of your house burning down, why don’t you move to one made out of concrete and steel?

            Why do you find it necessary to play at being a fireman?

            You’re so stupid you can’t even grasp the deep hypocrisy of your existence.

      • perhaps you can share with us just who you think is living in fear… give details and specifics.

        • Joe Dick

          You shouldn’t need to ask.

          • There ya go, Dear Readers… he’s all hat and no cattle…

    • Peter Montbriand

      No place is completely safe, pay attention and have a plan of action. That includes church and most especially locations that ban firearms. People who stick their heads in the send leave their butts out to be kicked. In this world, they will get kicked. Now if only the left would quit with their platitudes, I’ll quit with mine.

    • jim

      Last I read, we couldn’t carry in church.

      • VA-Scott

        We can in Virginia IF we have either permission or good reason.
        This tragedy gives us good reason, as does the Charleston church mass murder.
        I carry every service, along with half the men in the congregation.
        There are also men chosen to stand guard, mostly deacons and ushers.
        I pity the fool who tries to attack my church.

  • G. David

    So the good guy with a gun kills the bad guy with a gun. After the bad guy has already killed 26 and wounded another 20. I would call that a hollow victory at best.

    • perks

      if i read the article right, it did say shooter killed himself in the end.

    • James O Donnell

      If you actually had READ the article, you would have noticed that the shooter STOPPED murdering people — there were multiple live ones still inside the church — and fled as soon as he heard Willeford yelling.

      But you would prefer 50 dead, if it would help you push your gun-grabbing agenda.

      • G_David

        Bless your heart, you’re not even smart enough to realize you’ve made my point for me. If the bad guy didn’t have a gun to begin with it wouldn’t have been 50, and it would have been a lot fewer than 26.

        • James O Donnell

          Or the bad guy would have chained the doors shut and burned the church down, murdering everyone inside.

          You fools are so obsessed with your hatred of gun-owners that you are incapable of thinking beyond “Must ban guns to make ourselves feel better about our sad little wannabe-dictator lives.”

  • Tom Hoefling

    This article is a rare example of real journalism.

    • Joe Dick

      This isn’t real journalism, it’s a puff piece.

      • James O Donnell

        Dick knows puffing.

  • Joe Dick

    Evil did win that day, the victory was just a little less because of Willeford.

  • Joe Dick

    Even the “good guys with guns” seem pretty scary.

    • James O Donnell

      Sure. If you’re a pathetic little beta.

      • Joe Dick

        Only a beta would be so scared of life that he feels the need to own a lot of guns, or even a gun. If you live somewhere that’s got such high crime, move.

        • James O Donnell

          So you, in your fear, can think of nothing but escape and flight, even from your home and community.

          What a pathetic little beta you are.

  • Patrick Barr

    Two big failures not covered in the story. It is illegal for those with domestic violence convictions to buy guns. The SS shooter did time in the military prison system for domestic violence, but the military did not report that crime to the database, a huge blunder. 2nd – he only received one year in prison, for assault of an INFANT. He should have received a much harsher sentence. Otherwise, a pretty good article on the hero.

    • VA-Scott

      The only fault I find in Mr. Willeford actions is that he had no magazines loaded in his safe.
      That said, I salute his valor and his selfless character.

  • Norm Walker

    Sitting here in Wisconsin crying like a baby. What a story about an amazing hero!

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