Hero who stopped Texas church shooter credits God for bravery: I'm 'not going to allow evil to succeed'

Jack Wilson, a former reserve deputy for the Hood County Sheriff's Office | Screenshot: Today Show

The church security guard who stopped the shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, thanked God for giving him the chance to defend himself and other worshipers from the “evil” gunman.

On Sunday, a gunman, identified as 43-year-old Keith Thomas Kinnunen, opened fire at the church, killing two people — security guard Richard White, 67, and grandfather Anton "Tony" Wallace, 64, who had just handed out communion — before being brought down by Jack Wilson, a 71-year-old firearms instructor who has also been a reserve sheriff’s deputy.

On Facebook, Wilson wrote, "I just want to thank all who have sent their prayers and comments on the events of today. The events at West Freeway Church of Christ put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in, but evil exists and I had to take out an active shooter in church.”

“I’m thankful to GOD that I have been blessed with the ability and desire to serve him in the role of head of security at the church. I am very sad in the loss of two dear friends and brothers in CHRIST, but evil does exist in this world and I and other members are not going to allow evil to succeed. Please pray for all the members and their families in this time. Thank you for your prayers and understanding.”

Kinnunen has a criminal past that involves arrests for theft and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His motive for the Sunday shooting is still under investigation; however, his sister, Amy, told reporters she believes he was on a suicide mission. 

Sunday was the anniversary of their brother Joel's suicide, she said, and Keith may have been trying to kill himself in a shoot-out either with cops or other civilians.

The church had previously provided Kinnunen with food on multiple occasions, but when he asked for money he wasn't given any, Britt Farmer, a senior minister for the congregation, told NBC. 

"I had seen him,'' Farmer said. "I had visited with him. I had given him food."

Wilson told the AP “alarms” went off in his head when Kinnunen first entered the building wearing a fake beard, a wig, a hat and a long coat. By the time Kinnunen approached the communion server and pulled out a shotgun, Wilson and another security volunteer were already reaching for their own guns.

After shooting two victims, Kinnunen headed toward the front of the sanctuary as Wilson searched for a clear line of fire.

“I didn’t have a clear window,” he said, referring to the 240 church members who “were jumping, going chaotic.”

“They were standing up. I had to wait about half a second, or a second, to get my shot. I fired one round. The subject went down ... The only clear shot I had was his head because I still had people in the pews that were not all the way down as low as they could. That was my one shot,” he said.

Wilson told NBC News that he fired at the gunman because he believed he was going to shoot more people. "I don’t feel like I killed a human," he said. "I feel like I killed an evil. That is how I am coping with the situation."

A video of the attack, captured on a livestream of Sunday’s church service, showed that Wilson took only six seconds to kill the gunman.

After the shooting, Texas officials credited the state’s gun laws for preventing further deaths. A measure enacted this year allows licensed handgun holders to carry a weapon in churches, synagogues and other houses of worship.

“How many more would be lost if we hadn’t had a good guy with a gun?” Texas State Representative Jonathan Stickland said in a statement calling for even fewer restrictions on carrying firearms. “We need more of them.”

“We can’t prevent mental illness from occurring, and we can’t prevent every crazy person from pulling a gun,” Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, said outside the church in White Settlement. “But we can be prepared like this church was.”

On Twitter, President Donald Trump wrote: “Lives were saved by these heroes, and Texas laws allowing them to carry arms!”

Sunday’s shooting comes two years after a gunman walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017, and fatally shot 26 and injured 20 others, including the daughter of Pastor Frank Pomeroy. The gunman was shot by a civilian as he left the church.

Pomeroy, now a Republican candidate for the state Senate, said Wilson’s response to the gunman showed that well-trained armed security can save countless lives.

“I have traveled all over the country as an advocate for a well-trained armed safety response team,” said Pastor Pomeroy, according to KXAN. “A well-trained safety response team is going to be visible and watching and then be able to take situations such as this and do what needs to be done.”

“That’s why the shooting yesterday was stopped in just a few seconds,” he added. “Praise God!”

Farmer said that the church lost “two great men,” but added that the tragedy could have been much worse if the church didn't have its own security force.

"There is evil in this world," Farmer said. "Today is one sermon I'll never preach ... it's called leaving a legacy and two men today left a legacy. But a congregation is going to build on that legacy.”

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