Hundreds of people will gathered in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, numbering in the hundreds, Sunday to worship with surviving members of a local church where a shooting rampage left more than two dozen people dead.
Members of the First Baptist Church will hold a church service for the first time since a gunman opened fire inside the small church a week earlier in the worst mass shooting in Texas history.
Initial plans called for gathering at a community center could house a few dozen people. But when organizers realized about 500 people were planning to attend, the service was moved outside to a baseball park.
Church representatives also plan to eventually open a public memorial inside the church, where 26 empty chairs have been placed. Authorities have put the official death toll at 26 victims because a female victim was pregnant. Church officials have said the building will likely be demolished.
On Saturday, about 100 people gathered outside the town's community center to commemorate Veterans Day and to honor the shooting victims, nearly half of whom had ties to the Air Force.
"Maybe this will start the healing process that will get Sutherland Springs and Wilson County to put this horrific tragedy behind us and look to the future," county Judge Richard Jackson, his voice breaking, told the crowd, which included first responders and law enforcement officers.
Jackson, the county's top administrator, thanked the first responders and others who rushed to First Baptist Church in the aftermath of last Sunday's shooting, which also wounded about 20 people. What they saw there will affect them the rest of their lives, Jackson said.
The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being heavily wounded by gunshots and chased by a local man, praised as a hero, who heard gunfire from the church.Investigators have said the attack appeared to stem from a domestic dispute involving Kelley and his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended services at the church but wasn't there the day of the shooting. He is also suspected to have been a hard-left radical atheist.
Kelley had a history of domestic violence: He was given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force after pleading guilty to assaulting his first wife and cracking his infant stepson's skull.
Due to the nature of the gun rights debate in the United States, the story of the man in his 60s who helped save several lives by attacking the shooter with his rifle has gone wildly unreported.
Long before emergency services showed up, Steven Williford, was warned by his older daughter that a shooting was happening in the neighborhood.
In an exclusive interview with YouTuber Steven Crowder, Williford explained how events unfolded.
Williford, a highly trained National Rifle Association member, stormed outside his house, barefoot, with his AR-15 and pursued Kelley, saying he shot him in the side from about 20 meters, between his Kevlar vests.
Having only two rounds Williford, then signaled a driver, known as "Johnny," who had witnesses the shooting and together they gave pursuit to Kelley, who at this point had got back unto his SUV and was attempting to flee via Highway 539.
They then got in contact with the Sutherland Springs Police Department and informed officers that they were pursuing Kelley, letting them know where he is.
Kelley then crashed onto a sign, and then attempted to escape on foot. He then either succumbed to his injuries or committed suicide.
When asked why he ran out barefoot, he said that "every time I heard a shot I was thinking, that was a sign of someone else; that shot was a sign that he was shooting at another person.
A man of God, Williford insists that he is no hero, saying that he was only doing his duty to protect his fellow man.
Responding to a question regarding media response, he said that "people are dead, children are dead; this is where I want the focus on this to go, not me. I want the focus to go to the families of the community that I grew up with."
According to statistics, 70 percent of mass shootings only last about 5 minutes, while the average police response time is 11 minutes. Without Williford risking his life, several more people would've certainly lost their lives.
Daily Sabah with wires