When a stranger gripping a rifle jumped into Johnnie Langendorff’s truck and ordered him to pursue the man who had committed Texas’ worst mass shooting minutes earlier, he “just acted.”
“The shooter of the church had taken off, fled in his vehicle. The other gentleman came and said we need to pursue him. And that’s what I did, I just acted,” Langendorff, 27, told local TV station KSAT.
Langendorff and the stranger, 55-year-old Stephen Willeford, set off in high-speed pursuit of the suspect, Devin Kelley, who had just opened fire on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed 26 people, ranging in age from 5 to 72. The pair drove as fast as 95 miles per hour at times as they weaved in and out of traffic after Kelley.
Willeford, who lives near the church, was alerted to the shooting by his daughter before grabbing his rifle and confronting Kelley as he exited the church. An expert shot, according to one neighbor’s account, Willeford hit Kelley in the side, between the body armor he was wearing. But the shot didn’t immediately stop Kelley, who jumped into his Ford Explorer SUV and took off.
Langendorff came upon the scene on his way to his girlfriend’s house.
“I didn’t know him [Willeford] at all. I didn’t recognize him. I just — he’s just a member of the community, and when he came to my vehicle in distress with his weapon, he explained very quickly what happened. And he got in the truck. I knew that it was just time to go,” Langendorff told KSAT.
During the high speed chase, Langendorff was in communication with police dispatch at all times, updating them on where Kelley was going. About 11 miles from the church, as Langendorff was closing in, Kelley lost control and careered off the road.
Willeford jumped out, steadied his rifle on the truck’s hood, took aim at the car, and shouted at Kelley to get out. But Kelley was already dead at that point. Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt confirmed Monday that Willeford had hit Kelley but he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“I was trying to get him, to get him apprehended. It was strictly just acting on what the right thing to do was,” Langendorff told KSAT.
The Texas natives have been heralded as heroes for their actions. “You don’t know me, but I wanted to take a moment to say you are a wonderful, courageous, selfless man to do what you did to stop evil in his tracks,” read one of the many messages on Langendorff’s Facebook page.
Donald Trump also called the pair “great people,” adding that without Willeford returning fire, the shooting “would have been much worse.”