It’s November 5, 2017, and Johnnie Langendorff is sitting in his car on his way to pick up his girlfriend. Around him, the Texan community of Sutherland Springs appears to be just as it should. But suddenly this ordinary scene takes a dramatic turn as he spots two figures shooting at one another – and now one of the pair is running right towards him.
Luckily for Langendorff, the approaching figure didn’t pose a threat; rather, this person was actually trying to save the lives of the people around him. The man, Stephen Willeford, had been firing his weapon at a mass shooter, and he was now asking Langendorff for some help.
Willeford ran over to Langendorff’s car and explained that the gunman he’d been shooting at was now driving away from the crime scene. The latter later relayed Willeford’s words to the TV stations KHBS/KHOG, saying, “That guy just shot up the Baptist church. We need to stop him.” TLangendorff agreed, and so the two strangers sped away together in pursuit.
Willeford and Langendorff soon found themselves involved in a dangerously fast car chase. All around them, regular commuters driving down the road posed a perilous threat – but the pair did not falter. Tearing down the road at 95 miles per hour, they managed to get right behind the shooter’s SUV.
But as Langendorff and Willeford got to within touching distance, the shooter lost control of his vehicle. The car crashed into a road sign and flipped over, bringing the chase to a dramatic end. But the prospective heroes were understandably weary of more danger, so Willeford left the vehicle, took out his gun and pointed it at the shooter’s wrecked SUV.
The shooter that Willeford and Langendorff had just pursued was a man named Devin Patrick Kelley. A local of New Braunfels, Texas, he was just 26 at the time of the incident. But even before this terrible act of violence, he already had an extensive criminal record.
Kelley’s unruly behavior as a youth saw him suspended from New Braunfels High School a total of seven times. And the range of offences committed there were extensive, ranging from drug-related crimes to insubordination and falsifying records, according to the Washington Post.
Kelley, had apparently always been somewhat of an outsider, according to those who had attended high school with him. Nina Rose Vaca recalled to Dallas Morning News in November 2017, “He was a little strange but it was high school. Everyone was strange in their own way.”
In a separate conversation with the Daily Mail, Vaca explained that she had only spoken to Kelley a few times, but he hadn’t seemed to be a threat back then. She added, “[Kelley] was an outcast, but not a loner. He was popular among other outcasts.”
But while Vaca appeared surprised that Kelley had ultimately strayed down a dark path, others were less so. Another former classmate who knew him, Kayla Marie Shearer, shared her thoughts on Facebook, writing, “He was always twisted in high school. I always thought if someone in our class would be able to do something like this it would be him.”
One friend of Kelley’s, Courtney Kleiber, also took to Facebook to talk about her old pal. She explained that she’d always suspected there was something odd about Kelley, but that he had, for some time at least, been a happy young boy.
Kleiber wrote, “I had always known there was something off about [Kelley]. But he wasn’t always a ‘psychopath’ though. He [used] to be happy at one point, [he was] normal, your average kid. We had a lot of good times together.”
But as time went on and the kids started to get older, Kleiber noticed that something had shifted inside Kelley. As her social media post put it, “Over the years, we all saw him change into something that he wasn’t. To be completely honest, I’m really not surprised this happened, and I don’t think anyone who knew him is very surprised either.”
By 2009 Kelley had left high school, having achieved some fairly unremarkable grades. A short time later, he signed up to the United States Air Force, which ultimately sent him to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Two years later he then got a marriage license in order to marry a woman he’d been dating, Tessa K. Loge.
Kelley’s union with Loge proved to be rather short-lived, however, and the pair divorced in October 2012. The relationship formally ended after Kelley received an assault charge for attacking his ex-wife and fracturing the skull of his stepson. For this, he received a 12-month sentence in a military prison.
In November 2017 Loge – who by this point had taken on the surname Brennaman – spoke to Inside Edition about Kelley. She said, “He would choke me, punch me, kick me. There would be times where I was on the floor curled up and I would have to protect my organs because he would be violently kicking me.”
Kelley allegedly subjected Brennaman to sexual abuse too, and tried to ensure her silence on the matter with some twisted threats. She claimed to Inside Edition that he had once said to her, “I could just bury you somewhere in the desert and no one would ever find you.”
On yet another dreadful occasion, Brennaman alleged that she and Kelley had been driving down an empty highway, when the latter had produced a gun and pointed it at her head. Apparently, he called out, “Do you want to die? Do you want to die?” This experience was undoubtedly already stressful enough for Brennaman – but a confession from her husband was about to make things even worse.
Brennaman had a son from another relationship, who, at the time of this drive, would’ve still been an infant. Raising the gun to himself now, Kelley informed her that he had harmed the boy. She tearfully told Inside Edition, “I was so angry.”
Thankfully, Brennaman freed herself from this violent marriage to Kelley, obtaining a divorce in October 2012. As we explored earlier, this occurred after the abusive man had been convicted for assaulting Brennaman and her young son, which saw him imprisoned for a year.
By 2014 Kelley had also been discharged from the U.S. Air Force on the grounds of having conducted himself inappropriately. However, it didn’t enter his conviction into the database used by federal law enforcement at the National Criminal Center, which could have prevented him from legally owning any guns.
After he had been kicked out of the air force, Kelley went back to live in New Braunfels, where he lived in a barn at his parents’ home. He then began dating a woman called Danielle Shields, but would soon be under investigation again on suspicion assaulting her. However, nothing ever came of this particular case.
By April 2014 Kelley had tied the knot with Shields and from there, they decided to set themselves up in a motor home in Colorado Springs. But in August of that year, Kelley was charged yet again, this time for allegedly attacking his underfed dog.
A few weeks after pleading guilty to the charge of harming his pet, Kelley again moved back in with his parents. And by this point, he had managed to obtain a small arsenal of firearms, despite the conviction that should have prevented this from ever occurring.
Over the years, Kelley had also become increasingly militant in his opposition to Christianity. In fact, this is why his former classmate Nina Rose Vaca was driven to unfriend him from Facebook. As she explained on the social media network, “He was always talking about how people who believe in God were stupid and trying to preach his atheism.”
And it’s this hatred that culminated in the tragic events of November 5, 2017. At around 11:00 a.m. that day, Kelley showed up at Sutherland Springs’ First Baptist Church in his SUV. Wearing a bulletproof vest, black tactical gear and a mask, he parked beside the door and stepped out armed with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle.
Kelley started shooting, killing two people who happened to be outside the church. He then walked inside and started firing on a Sunday service congregation, discharging around 700 rounds over a roughly 11-minute period.
Kelley killed a total of 26 people during the shooting spree, including eight children and an unborn baby. The shooter’s second spouse Dannielle Shields and her family were known to attend the First Baptist Church. While she herself wasn’t there on this harrowing occasion, it turns out that her grandmother had been – and she was one of Kelley’s victims.
While this terrible massacre was unfolding inside the First Baptist Church, Stephen Willeford, a former National Rifle Association instructor, was at home. Eventually, though, his daughter informed him that she could hear shooting coming from the church. And so he jumped into action, grabbing his firearm from his safe and setting off without shoes on.
Recalling the terrible incident to the TV stations KHBS/KHOG, courageous Willeford said, “I kept hearing the shots. One after another, very rapid shots – just ‘Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!’ – and I knew every one of those shots represented someone, that it was aimed at someone, that they weren’t just random shots.”
Soon, Willeford had made it to the church, and his presence hadn’t gone unnoticed. He recalled, “[Kelley] saw me and I saw him. I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover. I know I hit him. He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window. When the window dropped, I fired another round at him again.”
As it turned out, Willeford had managed to shoot Kelley in two places – in the leg and torso. But now the murderer was attempting to flee the scene in his vehicle, something Willeford wasn’t prepared to let happen. So at this point the latter approached Johnnie Langendorff, who was sat in his truck nearby.
Langendorff, who was sat behind the wheel, understood what needed to be done. Recalling how events had unfolded to the TV station Ksat.com in November 2017, he said, “I pulled up to the intersection where the shooting happened. I saw two men exchanging gunfire, the other being the citizen of the community. The shooter of the church had taken off, fled in his vehicle, the other gentleman came and said we need to pursue him. And that’s what I did, I just acted.”
Langendorff and Willeford took off in pursuit of Kelley, who’d had a head start. The former continued, “He got a little bit of a jump on us. We were doing about 95 [miles per hour] down [Route] 539, going around traffic and everything. Eventually, he came to a kind of a slowdown and after that we got within just a few feet of him and then he got off the road.”
Kelley had smashed into a road sign and flipped his SUV, ending the chase. But the shooter’s pursuers still needed to be careful, so Langendorff brought his truck to a stop, and Willeford stepped out. Pointing his gun at Kelley’s vehicle, he yelled at him to exit the vehicle, but got no response.
Around five minutes later, police officers made it to the scene of the crash. They took over from the civilian duo, approaching Kelley’s SUV. Inside, they found that the shooter had died; in addition to the wounds he’d received from Willeford’s weapon, he had also shot himself in the head.
Langendorff and Willeford later received praise from officials for helping bring down Kelley. Speaking at a news conference, Texas department of public safety regional director Freeman Martin said, “The number one goal of law enforcement is to neutralize the shooter. In this situation, we had two good Samaritans who did that for law enforcement.”
Willeford, for his part, appeared to be modest about his role in stopping the shooter, telling Dallas Morning News, “I didn’t want this and I want the focus to be on my friends. I have friends in that church. I was terrified while this was going on.”
Similarly, Langendorff downplayed his own involvement in managing to stop Kelley from escaping and potentially inflicting more harm upon people. Speaking to Ksat.com in the wake of the incident, he explained, “I was trying to get him, to get him apprehended. It was strictly just acting on what the right thing to do was.”
At one point, according to The Guardian, Langendorff was questioned about whether or not he regarded himself as a hero. He replied, “I don’t really know how I feel. I just hope that the families and people affected by this can sleep easier knowing that this man is not… able to hurt anyone else. I feel I just did what was right.”