‘Ev­ery­body die,’ gun­man told his vic­tims

Church mas­sacre wit­nesses share a tale of ter­ror

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By John Tedesco San Antonio Ex­press-News saff writ­ers Kelsey Brad­shaw, Caleb Downs and Silvia FosterFrau contributed to this re­port, which con­tains ma­te­rial from pub­lic records and in­ter­views con­ducted with other me­dia out­lets. jt­edesco@ex­press-news.net

On the Sun­day that changed ev­ery­thing in Suther­land Springs, Lorenzo Flores and his girl­friend, Ter­rie Smith, had just parked at a Valero gas sta­tion on U.S. 87 when Flores saw the man with the ri­fle.

The gun­man across the street had hopped out of a gray SUV.

“Ter­rie, look at that,” Flores said. He knew a sher­iff’s deputy lived nearby. Maybe there was a train­ing ex­er­cise.

To Flores, it looked like the man dressed in black tac­ti­cal gear was hav­ing an in­ter­nal de­bate with him­self, try­ing to de­cide whether to ap­proach the First Bap­tist Church of Suther­land Springs.

About 50 peo­ple were in­side, wor­ship­ing God the way they usu­ally did on a Sun­day morn­ing — with song and laugh­ter and kin­ship.

The sense of fam­ily is what most peo­ple liked about the tiny wisp of a com­mu­nity about 30 miles south­east of San Antonio.

Flores watched as the man with the ri­fle seemed to make up his mind, head­ing to­ward the church.

Forty miles away in New Braun­fels, a se­cu­rity guard named Devin Pa­trick Kel­ley hadn’t shown up for work at the Sum­mit Va­ca­tion and RV Re­sort.

Kel­ley, 26, went home early the day be­fore, com­plain­ing of a headache. His ab­sence was the first prob­lem the RV park had with Kel­ley, who had passed a crim­i­nal back­ground check and had a se­cu­rity li­cense is­sued by the Texas Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety.

There was a lot DPS of­fi­cials didn’t know about Kel­ley. They didn’t know he had been kicked out of the Air Force after as­sault­ing his first wife, Tessa, and in­fant step­son so se­verely that he had frac­tured the boy’s skull. He was con­victed in 2012, served 12 months, was de­moted and re­ceived a “bad con­duct” dis­charge in 2014.

In the Air Force, Kel­ley also had been sent to a men­tal health fa­cil­ity after try­ing to sneak weapons onto Hol­lo­man AFB in New Mex­ico, where he made death threats to his commanding of­fi­cers.

Kel­ley’s do­mes­tic as­sault case should have pro­hib­ited him from buy­ing firearms. But the Air Force didn’t re­port it to the FBI, which meant Kel­ley could pass crim­i­nal back­ground checks.

Over the span of four years, he bought at least four weapons — in­clud­ing the Ruger AR-556, a semi­au­to­matic ri­fle that Flores saw him with Sun­day.

Tessa had di­vorced Kel­ley after the as­sault. In 2014, Kel­ley mar­ried Danielle Shields, 22. Shields’ mother, Michelle, was a mem­ber of the First Bap­tist Church.

Kel­ley sent his moth­erin-law an­gry texts be­fore his ar­rival at the church, but au­thor­i­ties won’t dis­close the con­tents.

First Bap­tist Church Pas­tor Frank Pomeroy was out of town that day. As­so­ciate pas­tor Bryan Hol­combe, whose fam­ily was at the ser­vice, said a few words and the con­gre­ga­tion be­gan singing the hymn, “Are You Washed in the Blood?”

They stopped part­way through the hymn to hear an­nounce­ments about the suc­cess of their re­cent fall fes­ti­val. Hol­combe’s wife, Karla, pre­sented a tro­phy to Julie Work­man, a nurse whose fes­ti­val cos­tume of a hos­pi­tal pa­tient was a hit.

As mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion talked, the shoot­ing started.

“Ev­ery­body get down!” some­body shouted. Glass from an over­head fan light shat­tered and shards show­ered around Work­man, who was in the sec­ond row on the left side with her two sons. She crawled over the glass to hide un­der a pew.

“Ev­ery­body die!” the gun­man shouted, fir­ing at pews on the right side of the church.

The killer turned and aimed at wor­ship­pers on the left side. He walked all the way to the back, fir­ing as he went. He stopped and reloaded.

“Oh my God,” Work­man thought. “Here he comes again.”

About a block away, Stephen Wille­ford, a for­mer gun in­struc­tor with the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, heard the gun­shots but didn’t re­al­ize what they were at first. It sounded like some­one tap­ping hard on his win­dow.

His daugh­ter, Stephanie, came in the room.

“Doesn’t that sound like gun­fire?” she asked.

Wille­ford followed her into the kitchen, where they could hear bet­ter.

Pop pop pop. That was definitely gun­fire.

Wille­ford ran to his safe and pulled out his AR 15 semi-au­to­matic ri­fle and a box of ammo. While he was arm­ing him­self, his daugh­ter drove around the block and came back in a panic. Some­one in tac­ti­cal gear was shoot­ing at the Bap­tist church, she said.

Ev­ery time he heard a shot, Wille­ford knew that prob­a­bly rep­re­sented a life lost.

He ran to­ward the church. He was scared to death. But he kept run­ning.

As Wille­ford ap­proached the site of the mas­sacre, he took cover be­hind a parked truck. Across the street was the church, and an empty SUV was in the road, its driver­side door open. It looked out of place.

A man in black tac­ti­cal gear walked around the front of the ve­hi­cle. He was car­ry­ing a hand­gun. He spot­ted Wille­ford.

The two men were about 20 yards from each other. Wille­ford no­ticed the gun­man was wear­ing a Kevlar vest and a tac­ti­cal hel­met — the kind SWAT teams use.

Even as it was hap­pen­ing, the gun­bat­tle seemed sur­real to him. Wille­ford shot Kel­ley twice — once in the torso, where he was aim­ing, and once in the leg. Wille­ford wasn’t hit.

A wounded Kel­ley climbed into his Ford Ex­pe­di­tion. He fired two more times at Wille­ford. Wille­ford re­turned fire, aim­ing for the man’s head. He saw the win­dow shat­ter.

The SUV sped off, head­ing north on FM 539 past the church to­ward U.S. 87, where the Valero sta­tion sits. Wille­ford aimed at the SUV and squeezed the trig­ger. His last shot shat­tered the back win­dow.

Wille­ford was bare­foot and with­out a ve­hi­cle.

He saw a pickup nearby, sit­ting at a stop sign. The driver was in­side.

John­nie Lan­gen­dorff had been headed to his girl­friend’s house when he stum­bled across the gun­bat­tle. Un­armed, he watched the two men exchange fire. He didn’t know ei­ther of them.

After the Ford Ex­pe­di­tion raced off, Wille­ford ran to Lan­gen­dorff ’s truck and knocked on the win­dow.

“That guy just shot up the Bap­tist church,” Wille­ford said. “We’ve got to stop him.”

“Let’s go,” Lan­gen­dorff said, un­lock­ing the door.

Their speed topped 95 mph as Lan­gen­dorff tried to make up lost ground.

As they drove, Lan­gen­dorff called 911 and said they were pur­su­ing the killer. No deputies or po­lice of­fi­cers were around. They were on their own.

The Ford Ex­pe­di­tion came into view. They could see the busted back win­dow. The dis­patcher asked for the sus­pect’s ex­act lo­ca­tion. They gave it.

In­side the SUV, Kel­ley was bleed­ing. He pulled out his cell­phone and called his fa­ther, Michael.

Kel­ley told him he’d been shot. He didn’t think he was go­ing to make it.

Wille­ford and Lan­gen­dorff watched the Ex­pe­di­tion veer off the road and hit a high­way sign as he sped on­ward about 100 yards. The SUV fi­nally crashed in a ditch.

Lan­gen­dorff stopped and Wille­ford hopped out. He rested his ri­fle across the truck’s hood, aimed at the SUV, and yelled at the man to get out. There was no move­ment.

He kept his eyes locked on the wrecked Ex­pe­di­tion. He didn’t no­tice the ar­rival of the deputy un­til he heard a voice on a loud­speaker: “Driver, get out of the ve­hi­cle with your hands up.” Sharp­shoot­ers aimed at the wrecked SUV while a small drone over­head scouted the ve­hi­cle. They were pa­tient and cau­tious. When deputies fi­nally closed in, they found Kel­ley’s body.

Au­thor­i­ties be­lieve he killed him­self.

Eric Gay / As­so­ci­ated Press

A fam­ily ar­rives for a grave-side ser­vice for Richard and Therese Rodriguez on Satur­day at the Suther­land Springs Ceme­tery.

Ed­ward A. Or­nelas / San Antonio Ex­press-News

There was a long fu­neral pro­ces­sion Satur­day for the Ro­driguezes, two of 26 who were killed in a mass shoot­ing in­side Suther­land Springs First Bap­tist Church.

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