Man Who Shot Kelley: 'I Was Scared to Death'

Kelley broke toddler's skull in 2012 incident
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2017 5:32 AM CST
Texas Church Shooter Broke Child's Skull in 2012 Incident
Stephen Willeford, left, attends a vigil for the victims of the First Baptist Church shooting Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas.   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The armed resident who confronted Texas church gunman Devin Kelley says he was "scared to death"—but he knew what he had to do. Stephen Willeford, who lives across the street from the Sutherlands Springs church Kelley attacked, tells KHBS/KHOG that he grabbed his rifle from its safe, loaded it, and ran out of the house barefoot when his daughter told him somebody was shooting at the church. He says he knew the shots he heard were aimed at people and he was scared not just for himself, but for people he knew were in the church. The 55-year-old former NRA instructor says he exchanged fire with Kelley, hitting him at least once, and then asked a pickup driver stopped nearby for help pursuing him after he took off. They chased Kelley until he went off the road. "I think my God, my Lord protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done," Willeford says. In other developments:

  • Kelley broke a child's skull. The New York Times has more on Kelley's violent background, including the fact that he beat his wife and broke his toddler stepson's skull during the 2012 domestic violence incident that led to his discharge from the Air Force. "He pled to intentionally doing it," says Air Force prosecutor Don Christensen. Kelley was sentenced to 12 months confinement, during which he was divorced by his first wife.

  • Shot three times. Texas authorities say Kelley was shot three times, including a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head,, CNN reports. The other two gunshot wounds, believed to be from Willeford, were to his leg and torso.
  • Grandmother-in-law. Kelley sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law, a member of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, before the shooting, authorities say. She was not present on Sunday, though officials are investigating reports that his grandmother-in-law was among those killed, reports the San Antonio Express-News.
  • Animal cruelty. The AP reports that in 2014, after he was discharged from the Air Force and spent time living in Colorado Springs, Kelley was charged with animal cruelty after neighbors saw him hitting a young husky and throwing the dog to the ground. He was given a deferred probationary sentence and ordered to pay $368 in restitution.

  • Survivors share their story. Joaquin Ramirez and his wife, Roseanne Solis, tells KSAT that they were sitting near the entrance to the church and survived by playing dead after bullets started coming in from outside. They say after Kelley entered the church, he moved from aisle to aisle killing anybody who made a sound, shooting babies at point-blank range.
  • "Really not surprised." Courtney Kleiber says Kelley was a longtime friend who was always odd but changed for the worse over the years, the New York Times reports. "To be completely honest, I’m really not surprised this happened, and I don’t think anyone who knew him is very surprised either." Other friends posting on Facebook say they stopped communicating with Kelley after he become very vocal and aggressive about his atheist beliefs.
  • Trump on gun control. Asked in South Korea Tuesday whether he would support "extreme vetting" for gun buyers, President Trump said gun control could have made things worse. He said the stricter gun control suggested would have made no difference, and "you might not have had that very brave person who happens to have a gun or a rifle in his trunk," the AP reports. He said if there hadn't been a Good Samaritan with a gun, "instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead."
(Kelley was allowed to buy guns because of an Air Force mistake.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.