SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas – It was about 11:30 am on Sunday when Johnnie Langendorff happened upon the most violent and deadly episode in Texas history at an unexpected location: the First Baptist Church in the town of Sutherland Springs, southeast of San Antonio.
Wearing sunglasses and a cowboy hat, Langendorff told reporters gathered in front of the church on Monday how he drove his truck after the shooter, Devin Kelley, who had attacked the congregation with an automatic rifle, killing 26 people and wounding another 20.
Langendorff, originally from Seguin, a city about half an hour east of Sutherland Springs, was driving to his girlfriend’s house when he heard gunfire near the church and saw a white man dressed all in black jump into his own car the flee the scene.
At that moment, another man who had confronted the killer and fired his own rifle at him ran up to Langendorff’s truck and quickly told him that Kelley had just “shot up the church” in the little town 45 kilometers (28 miles) southeast of San Antonio.
The man said “We’ve got to get him,” Langendorff told reporters soberly. “I said ‘let’s go,’” he said, adding that he acted without thinking about it and took off after the shooter after the man climbed into the passenger seat.
Langendorff and his passenger, with his own rifle, followed the gunman at speeds reaching 95 miles per hour along Farm to Market Road 539 until Kelley lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a fence, apparently after shooting himself fatally, according to the latest police reports.
Langendorff told reporters that he had not spoken with the other man – another local resident – since the incident and does not know if he had shot Kelley before the chase began.
He told reporters that the pair approached the other vehicle shouting to Kelley to get out but he did not move. “He was already dead.”
The 27-year-old Langendorff immediately called local police, who showed up at the scene a few minutes later and questioned the two men who had prevented the gunman from escaping.
Langendorff said that he did not feel that he acted “heroically,” but rather he just did what any other person would have done in the same situation, although after speaking with several dozen TV, radio and newspaper reporters he appeared visibly emotional.
Meanwhile, the young man’s quiet manner of speaking, his dark goatee and the huge tattoo on his chest of a deer whose horns reach up along the sides of his neck almost to his ears, have made him a news phenomenon.
On Monday, local residents gathered in front of the little church thanked Langendorff for his courage and agreed that now that Kelley is dead, the community can focus on the families affected and the 20 people wounded, 10 of them in critical condition, who are recovering in several hospitals.
Despite the fact that an official list of the dead has not yet been released, church pastor Frank Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter was among those killed, and the other victims range in age from 5 to 72, indicating that Kelley didn’t single any particular person or persons out among the churchgoers but rather simply tried to do as much human damage as possible.