Union plumber who stopped Texas church shooter epitomizes ‘brotherhood’

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UNION HERO: The men who chased down the Texas church shooter — United Association plumber Stephen Willeford (right) and Johnnie Langendorff — attended a recent prayer vigil for the victims of the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX. – Associated Press photo

Sutherland Springs, TX – Stephen Willeford, the man who shot at and chased the man who killed 26 people in a Texas church here Nov. 5, insists he is not a hero. But his brothers and sisters in the United Association of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and Service Techs Union strongly disagree.

Willeford is not only a hero, he’s a well-regarded retired member of UA Local 142 in San Antonio, TX.

“We could not be prouder of him,” UA General President Mark McManus said. “On behalf of 345,000 members, I think I can safely say all of our members collectively are most proud of the courage shown by our UA brother, plumber Steven Willeford. His actions epitomize the foundation of brotherhood.”

McManus said the union understands and respects Willeford’s feeling that he is not a hero, but reiterated the gratefulness of the Sutherland Springs area and the entire nation for his bravery and selflessness.

Willeford’s Business Manager Mark Potter added, “Steve is a great union member and a very talented plumber. He is hard working and respected by all members of UA Local 142, not only for his craftsmanship and work ethic but also for his charity to the community over the years.”

QUICK REACTION SAVED LIVES

Willeford was at home Nov. 5 when his daughter came into his bedroom to tell him she heard gunshots at the nearby First Baptist Church.

Willeford, a former NRA instructor, got his rifle out of his safe while his daughter looked outside again. She ran back in and told him she saw a man in black tactical gear shooting up the church.

“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.

‘SCARED TO DEATH’

“I was scared to death, I was,” a visibly shaken Willeford told a Texas television station. “I was scared for me. I was scared for every one of them and I was scared for my own family that lived less than a block away.”

Willeford loaded a magazine in his rifle and ran across the street without even taking the time to put on his shoes. When he saw the suspect, identified by police as Devin Patrick Kelley, the two exchanged gunfire.

“He saw me and I saw him,” Willeford said. “I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover.

“He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window,” Willeford said. “When the window dropped, I fired another round at him again.”

Kelley then sped away down the highway.

A HIGH-SPEED CHASE

Willeford spotted a pickup truck at a nearby stop sign, ran to the truck and asked the driver for help.

“That guy just shot up the Baptist church. We need to stop him,” Willeford told the driver, later identified as Johnnie Langendorff. The two of them set off on a high-speed chase to stop Kelley before he could hurt anyone else.

They had just caught up to Kelley’s truck when he appeared to lose control, hit a road sign, then flipped over into a ditch.

Willeford got out of the truck and put his rifle over the top, keeping his eye on Kelley’s vehicle and yelling “Get out of the truck! Get out of the truck!”

He and Langendorff never saw any movement.

Authorities believe Kelley died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Willeford said his family has lived in the Sutherland Springs area, about 30 miles east of San Antonio, for four generations. He had numerous friends who went to the church.

In addition to the 26 people who were murdered, the shooting left 20 others wounded

The massacre killed about four percent of the town’s population.

(Information from ABC affiliate 40/29 News)

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