- YouTube via NRA
- Stephen Willeford
Willeford was the first to apprehend Kelley after the 26-year-old man killed dozens of adults and children inside Sutherland Springs' First Baptist Church on Nov. 5. As Kelley exited the church, Willeford, who lives next door, took a shot with his semi-automatic rifle, prompting Kelley to drop his gun and run to his car. Willeford then hailed Johnnie Langendorff, a Seguin resident who witnessed this confrontation from his car, and the two sped off after Kelley. The men eventually found Kelley’s car on the side of the road near the Guadalupe County line. Kelley was inside, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Willeford was immediately hailed as a hero by conservatives. The National Rifle Association, who usually keeps quiet after a mass shooting, rushed to make Willeford their poster boy.
"The tiny town of Sutherland Springs needed a brave, calm-headed gun owner ... to stop the rampage of a deranged monster," said NRA talk show host Grant Stinchfield shortly after the attack.
For Rep. Cuellar, a Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs, Willeford represents bravery and small-town community strength. But for Republican hard-liner Cruz, Willeford is a gun rights hero.
"The day after the shooting I spoke with Stephen Willeford. He’s a humble, simple man," Cruz told the Senate Judiciary Committee a month after the shooting. "I’ll tell you what a half dozen law enforcement agents told me that day — they said had that individual citizen not engaged, not risked his life, many more people would have been murdered that day. The answer, I believe, is not in restricting law-abiding citizens like Stephen Willeford whose heroism saved lives that day. The answer instead is stopping criminals and madmen from getting guns."
Willeford will be accompanied by his wife, Pam, at Tuesday night's State of the Union address.