In the aftermath of the deadly attack on a small-town Texas church that has left twenty-six dead and twenty wounded, it is important to focus not on the perpetrator of such crimes, but the heroes who did what they could to put an end to such atrocities.
Needless to say, this is the story of Stephen Willegord and Johnnie Langendorff.
By all accounts, they were perfect strangers who -with a little bit of trust and a lot of courage- came together in order to bring an end to a senseless act of violence by a man whose motives are still unclear.
55-year old plumber Willeford was alerted to the presence of armor-clad shooter and disgraced Airman Devin Patrick Kelley (this is the one and only time his name will be used in this article), prompting him to head over to the nearby church with his rifle in an attempt to stop the gunman.
Opening fire upon contact with the 26-year-old gunman, the plumber and avid biker managed to sink a round into the gunman’s torso, striking the vulnerable side section that was not protected by body armor.
As is the case with most active shooters, the gunman stopped his attack after being confronted. Dropping his Ruger semiautomatic rifle, he climbed into a SUV and attempted to flee.
Meanwhile, a passing truck driven by 27-year-old Johnnie Langendorff rolled to a stop after witnessing the chaos.
Having never met each other before, Willeford told the young driver what was going on and that they needed to catch the assailant.
“He briefed me quickly on what had just happened and said he had to get him,” Langendorff said later. “So that’s what I did.”
With a bit of faith in each other and some good ol’ Texas grit, the two sped off down the highway at speeds over 90 miles per hour, weaving through traffic to catch the gunman.
“It was more see and do,” Langendorff later told reporters. “Act now, ask questions later.”
With a wild young wheelman on his side, Willeford steeled himself for a pending encounter that had a dire and unknown outcome. As speeds increased, so did the adrenaline. During the chase, the duo coordinated with local authorities to the constantly-changing whereabouts of the shooter.
“I was on the phone with dispatch the entire time,” the young driver said. “I gave them the direction we were going, on what road and everything, and that the vehicle was in sight and that I was getting closer and closer to him.”
Suddenly, the gunman’s SUV lost control and crashed into a ditch. Putting his own truck in park about 25 yards away, Langendorff held tight as his armed partner dismounted, taking what cover he could behind the engine block and training his weapon on the assailant’s vehicle.
“The gentleman that was with me got out, rested his rifle on my hood and kept it aimed at him, telling him to get out, 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 have been unconscious from the crash or something like that, I’m not sure,” he said.
According to The Washington Post, police arrived within five to seven minutes but can not determine whether the shooter was ultimately brought down by his wound or simply finished himself off with one of the other firearms he had in the vehicle.
When asked why he decided to trust an armed man he never met and chase down a dangerous criminal, Langendorff simply replied, “He just hurt so many people, he affected so many people’s lives, why wouldn’t you want to take him down?”
Forget the gunman’s name. The only two names that need 24-7 coverage are those of Willeford and Langendorff.