SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — The deadliest shooting in Texas history could have claimed even more lives if it weren’t for a local resident who confronted the gunman and another man who helped chase down the shooter.
The resident, whose name has not been released, ran out of his house barefoot and exchanged gunfire with the shooter before the gunman, Devin Kelley, sped away in a pearl-colored Fort Explorer.
The armed resident then hailed a man across the street and got in his truck, telling him to chase down the gunman.
“I had to catch the guy. I had to make sure he was caught and at that point the gentleman riding with me said you may have to use your truck to get him off the road and there was no hesitation. It was do everything necessary to make sure that this guy is stopped,” the driver, Johnnie Langendorff said.
At a news conference Sunday night, investigators offered a preliminary timeline of the attack at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and laid out the role the resident played.
Kelley entered the small church in the rural town east of San Antonio, firing with an assault weapon at the congregation attending the morning service.
A resident grabbed his own rifle and engaged the gunman, said Freeman Martin, the regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“The suspect dropped his rifle, which was a Ruger AR assault-type rifle and fled from the church,” Martin said.
“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.”
Langendorff said he was driving by the church on the way to his girlfriend’s house when he saw gunfire between the shooter and the armed resident.
Langendorff said both men had weapons drawn.
“There was exchange of gunfire. It lasted just a few seconds, and the shooter got in his vehicle and took off,” he said.
The armed resident opened Langendorff’s door, said the gunman shot up the church and urged the driver to step on it.
“We got to chase him,” the man said, according to Langendorff.
He said he answered, “Let’s go.”
They gave chase in his truck for 11 miles, and called police dispatch to tell them where they were and in what direction they were headed. The chase lasted 10 to 12 minutes.
“The vehicle was in sight and I was picking up, getting closer and closer to it. We hit about 95 (mph) … trying to catch this guy until he eventually lost control on his own and went off into the ditch,” Langendorff told KSAT.
“The gentleman that was with me got out and rested his rifle on my hood and kept it aimed at (the shooter), telling him to get out. There was no movement, there was none of that.
“I just know his brake lights were going on and off, so he might’ve been unconscious from the crash or something like that. I’m not sure.”
Langendorff felt the suspect, who crashed his vehicle near the county line, “just gave up.”
When police arrived about five minutes later, they approached the suspect’s vehicle and found the gunman inside dead of a bullet wound.
Asked what he was thinking at the time, Langendorff said, “Nothing. Get him.”
“Because that’s what you do, you chase a bad guy,” he said.
The shooting was a horrific tragedy, Langendorff said, but he hopes the families of the victims can sleep better knowing the shooter “was taken care of.”
And he has no regrets about throwing himself into such a dangerous situation.
“I hope that everyone affected is able to rest a little better knowing that this guy, he’ll never breathe again. It doesn’t serve it justice completely. But he won’t hurt anyone else ever,” he said.
Langendorff praised the resident for his quick action and called him “very much a hero.”
He emerged barefooted, grabbing his gun before he grabbed his shoes.
“He did absolutely the right thing, which was try to take him down at the scene,” he said.
The shooting at the church claimed 26 lives.