Church of Christ member Stephen Willeford, husband of alumna Pam Willeford, pursued and shot Devin Patrick Kelley, the man who opened fire in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, killing 26 and injuring at least 20.
Harding alumnus Joshua Cole Little, anchor for KHBS News in North Little Rock, is a family friend of the Willefords.
“It’s a tragedy, and it’s something I don’t wish on anyone,” Little said. “It’s hard for those people to talk about. It’s hard even as a journalist to go cover something like that, and as a Christian to have to cover something like that and know that people were being attacked — all you can do is pray.”
Little said he called the Willeford family immediately after receiving a news alert about the shooting. He grew up in San Antonio and attended church with the family as well as participated in a youth shooting league with the Willefords’ children.
“I grew up with the Willeford family, and I grew up in San Antonio. This community is part of the San Antonio community,” Little said. “It’s just hard knowing that my city and my region was hit like this. For me, I don’t care who he attacked. He attacked my people.”
Stephen Willeford, who lives near the First Baptist Church, was at home with his daughter, who came to his room saying she heard gunshots and saw a man in black gear shooting the church, according to KHBS.
Stephen Willeford left his home barefoot with his personal firearm and exchanged gunfire with Kelley. After Kelley got into his vehicle and drove away, Stephen Willeford approached a truck at a stop sign and asked the driver for a ride. The two chased Kelley until he crashed into a street sign, Willeford told KHBS.
Kelley was found by law enforcement with shots in the torso and leg, and a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to CNN.
Freeman Martin of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Kelley’s mother-in-law had previously attended services at the church, but was not there during Sunday’s attack, according to USA Today.
Martin said Kelley had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law; he noted that there was “a domestic situation going on within this family.”
Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his spouse and their child, receiving a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force and 12 months of confinement, Air Force officials said.
This shooting is considered the worst in Texas and, alongside the Las Vegas shooting in October, is among the five deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history, removing the 1998 Columbine massacre from the top 10 deadliest single-day mass shootings in the country, according to CNN.
According to a USA Today study, 2017 has been the deadliest year for shootings since at least 2006.
“I think it’s amazing that God placed him there at that moment to be able to do what he could, and I know in my interview with him he said he wishes he would have known something sooner so he could have prevented more people from dying,” Little said. “He’s trying to use his story to show Christ, really, to as many people as he can, and I think that is something that more people should be able to emulate.”