‘Heroes’ hug during prayer vigil to mourn Texas church victims
ABCNews.com(SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas) — Two men who happened to be at the scene to help after a mass murder on a desolate, dusty road in Texas have been hailed as heroes in vigils and prayers for the victims.
On Monday, Stephen Willeford reunited with Johnnie Langendorff — both celebrated for helping to end a mass shooter’s attack on the First Baptist Church in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The former strangers embraced during a candlelight vigil where they stood as a presence of hope for the families, after so many of their loved ones were savagely killed.
They joined hundreds gathered Monday night, including multiple generations of children, parents and grandparents, at the post office along U.S. Highway 87 to raise lit candles, sing hymns and pray for the 26 victims and 20 survivors.
Cat Dalton, who lost five fellow prayer group members burst into tears.
“That church is my family,” she told ABC News. “And there’s so many that are gone. It hurts so much.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott also attended, offering support to one local, “God bless you.”
Cody Shaw, who was a friend of the victims, said the town is close-knit.
“Either you went to school together or church — everybody knows everybody.”
Stephen Willeford was one of those locals.
He lived next door to the First Baptist Church in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
When the former National Rifle Association instructor heard gunshots at around 11:15 a.m. on Sunday that seemed to come from the church sanctuary.
Willeford said he grabbed his rifle and ran towards the melee barefooted. Inside, a man was slaughtering the worshippers — half of them children. He said he squared off with the man, who authorities later identified as Devin Kelley, who was wearing a skull and black tactical gear.
Kelley, a 26-year-old former Air Force airman who lived 25 minutes north of Sutherland Springs, spotted Willeford and the two exchanged gunfire.
“He saw me and I saw him,” Willeford told ABC affiliate KHOG-TV. “I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover.”
“I know I hit him,” Willeford said. “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.”
After the exchange of gunfire, Kelley attempted to flee and that’s when Willeford said he flagged down a car to trail him.
A stranger Wlleford didn’t know before was behind the wheel of the pickup truck.
It slowed down on the road by the church after the driver Johnnie Langendorff saw bullets flying.
Langendorff told “Good Morning America” he was headed to his girlfriend’s house, but agreed to reroute and let Willeford hitch a ride to pursue Kelley.
Langendorff remembered Willeford approaching his truck clutching his rifle and, as he opened his door, he told him, “‘He just shot up the church,’” and got in.
He said, “Chase him,” Langendorff continued. “So that’s what I did. I just chased him.”
The two sped after Kelley going at speeds up to 95 miles per hour, they said, to keep up. They also dialed 911 to report what was happening.
Kelley struck a road sign and came to a stop on the side of the road, Willeford said. Though they demanded Kelley exit the truck, he was already dead, authorities suspect, after he took his own life.
The two men received thanks and honors at the vigil for the church shooting victims.
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