On May 8th, at the Broad Creek Recreation Center, Stephen Willeford (spokesman for Gun Owners of America), in a calm, storyteller voice, told nearly fifty FFH Gun Club members he had a story to tell that he wished he would never have to tell. Willeford is best known for his heroic role in the Sutherland Springs church shooting on November 5th, 2017, in Texas.
Late on that Sunday morning in his home, Stephen's daughter alerted him to suspected gunshots. When he walked toward the front of the house, he knew it was gunshots but had no idea where it was coming from.
He grabbed his AR-15 rifle, which was his protective point of comfort. Stephen’s daughter told her father the shooting was coming from the First Baptist Church one-hundred-fifty yards away. His daughter immediately called 9-1-1. Stephen and his family knew about everyone who attended that church in their 600-person community.
Stephen humorously spoke about running out of the house with no shoes toward the church carrying his AR-15. When he got close to the church, he yelled a single word loudly, "Hey." Wearing body armor and a helmet, the gunman stopped shooting inside the church and headed for the front door with hand-guns. Stephen took cover behind a parked vehicle. Stephen returned the incoming fire with a few rounds that hit the perpetrator in the vest and an unprotected area under the arm.
The assailant jumped in his SUV and sped off. Still barefooted, Stephen told a young man driving by in a truck that the guy in that get-away vehicle had just shot up the church. A high-speed chase ensued while waiting for the police.
Not far ahead, the SUV veered off the road and rolled to a stop. The truck with Stephen stopped close to the scene and waited about 5 minutes for the police to arrive, who soon determined the gunman had taken his own life.
Stephen is a Christian and emotionally shared with the audience how God had prepared him for that day. History tells us there were 26 killed between 77 years of age and 18 months. Eight of the deceased were children, and 22 others were wounded. As he speaks confidently from the heart, you can tell that Stephen is still reckoning with the tragedy more than five years later.
Stephen’s message: nothing can diminish the immense tragedy of a mass shooting, but an armed person with a higher level of training can make a difference. Stephen said because he had been trained, he would never have to worry about NOT doing something on that day. He felt many others in his community could live their tomorrows because he was prepared and acted.
Stephen Willeford’s parting words - “I did what was right!”
Bill Hewitt - FFH Gun Club, President