When Jonnie Langendorff returned from breakfast on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 5th, he stumbled into the fight of a lifetime.
Driving past the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, he saw something very, very wrong. A pearl-colored Ford Explorer was pulled sideways in front of the church, driver’s door ajar, engine running. A man holding a rifle stood before the vehicle, exchanging shots with a black-clad man walking from the church.
Langendorff sprang into action as the shooter leaped into the car and sped off. The man with the rifle, Stephen Willeford, ran up to Langendorff’s truck and briefed him on what was happening. The two men were strangers. Langendorff said, “Get in.”
The two men chased after the shooter down the highway, engaging him in a high-speed chase until the shooter ran off the road and careened into a ditch. Langendorff and Willeford got out slowly, ordering the shooter to get out of his car, but they got no response. He was already dead.
An autopsy later confirmed that the shooter, David Kelley, had been shot twice before shooting himself in the head. It is suspected that these two earlier shots came from his confrontation with Willeford.
Willeford and Langendorff, two ordinary, gun-owning Texans, became heroes in this instant. Willeford, a local NRA instructor, who lived nearby and heard the shots, decided to come help. Langendorff, another local resident, was just driving by when he sprang into action. To these men, jumping into the fray seemed like a simple calculation.
“I’m no hero,” Willeford told the news later. But he is. Had he, with Langendorff's help, not forced the man to flee, more lives would have inevitably been lost.
In the last year, the number of mass shootings and terrorist attacks has climbed steadily, spreading devastation and loss across the country. Time and time again, our country grieves and attempts to move on as normal, with only the sadness lingering. The light that comes from these events, the stories of heroism and humanity, are the first things to fade from our minds.
First responders are the unsung heroes of the disasters our country has weathered. Whether these men are trained, or, in the case of the Texas shooting, simply concerned and well-informed citizens, they save lives. When heroes were needed, many answered the call, like off-duty firefighter Travis Haldeman, who was in the crowd with his wife the night of the recent Las Vegas shooting. When the gunfire stopped the music, he kept calm, ushering people out of the line of fire.
In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, first responders swarmed to the scene, attempting to save lives even as bullets continued to rain down into the crowd. Off-duty firefighters rushed into the fray, offering first aid and evacuating the injured. Security guards and police officers acted on “instinct”, trusting that their training would guide them. These heroes remind us that, even in the wake of disasters, this country will not bow. Our people will not turn their backs on those in need.