Asking for God’s Guidance: Hero of Sutherland Springs Shooting

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Stephen Willeford became a household name one year ago through no intention of his own, but perhaps fate had a hand to play in it. The fame wasn’t for something negative. If you’re unaware as to the magnitude in which his actions were praised, he received an acknowledgment from the president of the United States, complete strangers sent him gifts and words of gratitude, and the national media thanked the Lord for what he’d done. Who is he? Willeford is a plumber. He’s also a coveted public speaker (now,) and he’s the man who put a stop to Devin Patrick Kelley’s shooting rampage at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The details of that day – his realization of what was happening, his actions, what was driving him, and how it all ended – are found in countless videos and written form. His belief is that what took place was purely driven by good vs. evil. On a number of occasions, he has taken the time to reiterate that he was terrified during his experience, but he believes any calm he experienced during the confrontation, the ensuing chase, and the end result, was due to the Holy Spirit taking the reins. He sees no other explanation for why he wasn’t hit by the gunman despite several attempts, and he believes that God not only protected him but guided him throughout his life in order that he would be the person performing his role on November 5, 2017.

Asking for God’s Guidance: Hero and Survivor of Sutherland Springs Shooting

Photo: Facebook/Sean Barfield

Willeford’s life truly does appear to have been molded in a fashion that would make him the perfect “tool” for this work. Not only does he have a strong passion for his community, but his interest in shooting has been polished to almost an art form. He’s had his share of hard times and trials, including the loss of his parents as a result of a drunk driver, followed by the loss of his childhood home just weeks later at the hands of an arsonist. He and his wife Pam lost a child in pregnancy not long after his parents’ funeral, and just a short time later, he lost his job. Yet, through it all, their faith stayed strong. And, with all of this pain in his life, his reaction after the Sutherland Springs event doesn’t come as a surprise. He identified crying more in the days following that event than he had in his entire life up to that point. He was overwhelmed.

Asking for God’s Guidance: Hero and Survivor of Sutherland Springs Shooting

Photo: Facebook/Ken Leonard

He had repeated his story to many agencies – county sheriffs’ offices, the ATF, the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. Each time, he asked about the people back at the church. Who and how many were hurt? What were their names? “How bad is it?” he would ask repeatedly. He was sure he would be doing some jail time as a result of his actions but finally determined that wouldn’t be the case when Wilson County District Attorney Audrey Louis introduced herself to him with a hug and stated she had friends who were present at the First Baptist Church.

There were 26 dead and 20 injured. Willeford and his family learned this by television news updates at home that evening. Prior to meeting Willeford, 15 30-round magazines had been spent by the gunman. Governor Greg Abbott confirmed all of the details at a press conference that evening at which it was asked by a reporter whether the name of the citizen who responded to the shooting would be released publicly. No was the answer, and Willeford went to bed with that understanding, later telling Texas Monthly, “We had no clue what was about to happen.” The sheer number of victims in this instance was astounding, and it took place in a small, tight-knit town, magnifying it even more. The usual discussions about stricter gun controls ensued, but in this instance, a civilian ended the matter. A debate over gun controls could downplay, if not negate, the steps that Willeford took. He was then plunged into the national limelight as being the good guy with a gun.

Asking for God’s Guidance: Hero and Survivor of Sutherland Springs Shooting

Photo: Pexels

Over the coming days and weeks, Willeford spent time repeating his story but refused to play the role of hero. His focus was always maintained on the victims and their families. Despite being invited to meet with several politicians and a trip to Washington, D.C. for the State of the Union and a private tour after which Willeford told his wife, “I feel like the prettiest girl at the prom. Everyone wants to dance with me.” He’s remained grounded. At a recent presentation he gave at the NRA’s national convention in Dallas, he stated, “We are the people that stand between the people that would do evil to our neighbors. I’m nothing special. Look at you guys. Every one of you would do what I did. And I love you all.” In appreciation of his statements, he received multiple standing ovations.

Willeford is cognizant of the fact he’s popular among a segment of the U.S. population because he’s become a symbol for those who advocate for gun rights. He also agrees with several arguments made on behalf of gun use in reference to his name. However, he also didn’t ask to be put on a pedestal for those arguments. He contends that he’s prayed for a simple life, to be a good husband, an equally good father, and a decent and respected member of his community. He doesn’t think of himself as a hero – he was just doing what he felt anyone would do. Not only that, but it’s also a very painful experience he has watched his community go through, and one he’s regularly reminded of with each offer of thanks and each moment of recognition.

Asking for God’s Guidance: Hero and Survivor of Sutherland Springs Shooting

Photo: Facebook/Ken Moore

Willeford has been approached by a number of public speaking agents as well as book publishers making offers which could potentially be lucrative deals. He’s also been told he would be a great person to start a church security consulting company. His AR-15, which he used on that fateful day, was recently returned to him by law enforcement in a ceremony at the Sutherland Springs church. He maintains his plumbing job at the hospital in San Antonio, where a number of the kids who were injured in the church shooting came for treatment. He remains concerned about his wife’s well-being, who he recognizes has suffered this trauma as well. She travels with her husband in support of his various speaking engagements and remains focused on their family, but, like him, she’s unclear as to what their next steps should be. Willeford says this is what they pray on most. “We’re just looking for some direction,” he stated.

Now, however, Willeford spends much of his time reminding himself that he did the best he could. He still regularly attends church and greets as many as he can each time, including many who were injured one year ago and survived. He relates to them. He respects and cherishes them. And he continues to be an active part of his community – the very one that saw him take steps to protect them, saw him skyrocket to immediate fame for his efforts, and sees him now remaining humble, still looking for God’s guidance.