SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Four years after the deadliest shooting in Texas history, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez in San Antonio ruled the U.S. Air Force 60% responsible for the mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs for failing to submit the gunman's criminal history into a database.
The man who took on the shooter that day says this is one step closer to justice.
"It was devastating. I could not believe that this could happen in a community of only 600 people," said Stephen Willeford, who used to live across the street from the first baptist church in Sutherland Springs.
Willeford says he was at home on November 5th 2017, a day that replays in his mind almost every day. "That was the worst day of my life."
On that day, Willeford says he remembers his daughter telling him what was happening at the church. He says he did not even think twice and immediately jumped into action. He grabbed his gun and ran to the church.
"I knew that innocence was being murdered and I had to stop it," he said.
There, Willeford remembers coming face-to-face with the gunman: Devin Kelley, a former US Air Force serviceman. The two immediately engaged in a shootout.
"I was able to put six out of six shots on him. Most of which didn't count because he was in body armor, but he felt them. He was able to get in his vehicle and flee the scene as fast as he could so I flagged down a truck at the corner and we pursued him 11.6 miles, and he chose to take his own life," said Willeford.
Earlier, the gunman had open fire into a group of worshipers inside the First Baptist Church. He killed 26 people and injured 20 others.
Many have since called Willeford a hero in this case for what he did. However, he thinks differently.
"I'm a survivor. He shot at me. I'm no different than the people in the church. They were shot at and they lost people they loved greatly, and, in that sense, I'm no different than they are. I just took the trash out," he said.
Wednesday, a federal judge has ruled the U.S. Air Force as largely responsible for the church shooting.
"My first thought was finally. Finally, the government that dropped the ball on so many things is being held responsible," said Willeford.
The gunman served in the air force for five years before being discharged three years before the shooting for multiple charges of domestic violence. He was convicted for assaulting his former wife and cracking his stepson’s skull.
The information was never entered into a database. A simple act this judge says the Air Force could have done to prevent the shooting.
"That would have prevented him from buying the gun that he bought," said Willeford.
Willeford says this ruling is one step closer to justice for not only the families and victims, but the entire town of Sutherland Springs.
"We will always have a hole in our town because of this, but make no mistake: Sutherland Springs that day, the first baptist church had 49 people in the church and, even during COVID, we have 200 people in our church every given Sunday. We are growing, we are resilient, and we will get past this," he said.