‘Everybody die,’ gunman told his victims
Church massacre witnesses share a tale of terror
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.
A family arrives for a grave-side service for Richard and Therese Rodriguez on Saturday at the Sutherland Springs Cemetery.
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.