On that awful Sunday morning, they were just strangers, trying to stop an act of unspeakable evil.
On Monday night, they reunited as heroes, hailed for the actions they took that helped end the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.
Stephen Willeford and Johnnie Langendorff hugged each other at a vigil held for the 26 killed and more than 20 wounded in the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.
— CNN (@CNN) November 7, 2017
When Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire inside the church on Sunday, Willeford, who lives near the church, grabbed his own gun and ran out of the house barefoot to confront the gunman.
“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 told KHBS.
Willeford exchanged gunfire with Kelley as he started his escape in his Ford Explorer. He spotted Langendorff’s truck across the street and hailed him down.
“I said ‘That guy just shot up the Baptist church. We need to stop him,'” Willeford said.
Langendorff didn’t hesitate.
“I had to make sure he was caught,” Langendorff told CNN. “It was ‘Do everything necessary to make sure that this guy is stopped.'”
The men pursued the gunman for 11 miles, in a chase that reached speeds of 95 mph.
Kelley eventually lost control of his truck and crashed it in a ditch. Police found him dead, with gunshot wounds, one of them self-inflicted.
Langendorff said he had no regrets about throwing himself into such a dangerous situation.
“Because that’s what you do, you chase a bad guy,” he said.
Willeford wished he could have gotten to the church faster to stop Kelley.
He doesn’t consider himself a hero, but the county’s sheriff disagrees.
“What do you say to the man who stepped up when he heard the gunshots? I’d say he’s a hero,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. Had he not done what he did, we could have lost more people.”