Amidst the Texas tragedy 3 heroes emerged - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Amidst the Texas tragedy 3 heroes emerged

One gave her life to protect her children; one man disregarded his own life to stop a killer, and another man assisted the other in chasing the killer down.

Sunday was the worst mass shooting in a house of worship in United States and Texas history. Twenty-six dead and 20 injured when Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Joann Ward, who was attending church services on Sunday with her four children, used her own body to shield her children from the gunfire.

Texas Church Shooting: 24 of 26 victims. (Courtesy photo)

Tragically, Joann Ward would die in the church along with her 5-year-old daughter, Brooke Ward and her 7-year-old daughter, Emily Garza.

Her 5-year-old son, Ryland survived the attack after being shot four times. Another daughter, Rihanna, 9, was thrown to the floor by her mother and hid during the attack and sustained minor injuries when a bullet ricocheted off her glasses.

Joann Ward died doing what any parent would hope they would never have to do, that is putting their own life on the line to protect their children.

She is a hero. She did what she felt she had to do to protect her children without any hesitation whatsoever.

Stephen Willeford was at home less than a block away from the First Baptist Church when his daughter ran in telling him that there was gunfire coming from the church.

Willeford immediately went to his gun safe, removed his AR-15 rifle, a box of ammunition and an unloaded magazine and ran out of the house barefooted, loading up the magazine with several rounds as he headed for the church.

When he approached the church, he said he saw Kelley, who was wearing a tactical helmet with a visor and ballistic armor, heading to his truck with a handgun in his hand.

Kelley opened fire on Willeford who was using a neighbor’s truck as cover.

Willeford, who is an NRA certified firearms instructor said he knew when he saw Kelley’s ballistic armor that he had to aim for Kelley’s side which was exposed between the Velcro straps that pulled the front and back of the ballistic armor together.

“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 CNN affiliate KHBS.

Willeford hit Kelley who managed to get into his truck. Willeford said he fired two more shots, one in the side window and another shot in the rear window as Kelley sped off with both windows shattered.

Willeford then hailed down Johnnie Langendorff, who had witnessed the firefight between Kelley and Willeford, and told him that they need to chase the shooter. Langerdorff agreed and Willeford jumped into his truck.

While chasing down Kelley, Langendorff called 911 and told the dispatcher that they were chasing the church gunman.

Kelley would crash his truck near the county line. Willeford covered the truck with his rifle until the arrival of the police. Kelley was found dead inside the truck. Multiple weapons were located inside Kelley’s vehicle according to police.

Stephen Willeford said he wished he had been able to get to the church sooner. He said had he grabbed a handgun instead of the AR-15 rifle things may have turned out different as Kelley was clad in ballistic armor and a tactical helmet with a visor and a handgun might not have been effective.

Johnnie Langendorff told the media when asked why he went after Kelley, replied that he was a bad guy, and that’s what good guys do, go after the bad guy.

The police called both men heroes.

Why Devin Kelley, who was convicted of domestic violence while in the military and was also confined to a mental facility for a short time, could legally purchase firearms is currently the subject of an investigation.


About the author

Doug Poppa

Doug Poppa is a US Army Military Police Veteran, former law enforcement officer, criminal investigator and private sector security and investigations management professional with 40 years of experience. In 1986 Mr. Poppa was awarded “Criminal Investigator of the Year” by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia for his undercover work in narcotics enforcement. He was also re-assigned to the Northern Virginia Regional Narcotics Enforcement Task Force for 18 months. In 1991 and again in 1992 Mr. Poppa’s testimony under oath in court led to the discovery that exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense by the prosecutor and sheriff’s office officials during the 1988 trial of a man accused of attempted murder of his wife that led to his conviction. As a result of his testimony the man was ordered released from prison, given a new trial in 1992 and found not guilty. Mr. Poppa became the subject of local and national news media attention as a result of his testimony which led to the demise of his 12-year police career. After losing his job, at the request of the FBI, Mr. Poppa infiltrated in an undercover capacity a group of men who were plotting the kidnapping of a Dupont Chemical fortune heir and his wife in 1992. His stories have been featured on Inside Edition, A Current Affair, and CBS News’ Street Stories with Ed Bradley. Contact the author.

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