Texas church security volunteer, firearms instructor took out gunman with one shot – ‘The only clear shot I had was his head… I still had people in the pews’

Jack Wilson, 71, poses for a photo at a firing range outside his home in Granbury, Texas, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Wilson trains the volunteer security team of the West Freeway Church of Christ, where a gunman shot two people Sunday before being shot by Wilson. (AP Photo/Jake Bleiberg)

By JAKE BLEIBERG and JAMIE STENGLE,  Associated Press  WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas (AP) 12/31 — Alarms went off in Jack Wilson’s head the moment a man wearing a fake beard, a wig, a hat and a long coat walked into a Texas church for Sunday services.

By the time the man approached a communion server and pulled out a shotgun, Wilson and another security volunteer were already reaching for their own guns.

The attacker shot the other volunteer, Richard White, and then the server, Anton “Tony” Wallace, sending congregants scrambling for cover. The gunman was heading 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 church members who “were jumping, going chaotic.” Wilson, a 71-year-old firearms instructor who has also been a reserve sheriff’s deputy, said: “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.”

Wilson’s single shot quickly ended the attack that killed Wallace, 64, and White, 67, at the West Freeway Church of Christ in the Fort Worth-area town of White Settlement. He said the entire confrontation was over in no more than six seconds. More than 240 congregants were in the church at the time.

In this still frame from livestreamed video provided by law enforcement, churchgoers take cover while a congregant armed with a handgun, top left, engages a man who opened fire, near top center just right of windows, during a service at West Freeway Church of Christ, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. The footage was broadcast online by the church according to a law enforcement official, who provided the image to The Associated Press on condition on anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. (West Freeway Church of Christ/Courtesy of Law Enforcement via AP)

 

“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,” Wilson said Monday from his home in nearby Granbury.

As Wilson approached the fallen attacker, he noticed five or six other members of the volunteer security team he had trained with their guns drawn. Wilson said they had their eyes on the man since he arrived. During the service, White and Wilson had stationed themselves at the back of the church, watching him.

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Monday identified the attacker as Keith Thomas Kinnunen, 43. His motive is under investigation.

This June 16, 2015, photo provided by the River Oaks Police Department, in Texas, shows Keith Thomas Kinnunen. Authorities say that Kinnunen is the man who carried out an attack Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. (River Oaks Police Department via AP)

 

Speaking outside the church Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said authorities “can’t prevent mental illness from occurring, and we can’t prevent every crazy person from pulling a gun. But we can be prepared like this church was.”

Britt Farmer, senior minister of the church, said Sunday, “We lost two great men today, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Wilson described the attacker’s gun as a short-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with a pistol grip. Shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches long are restricted under federal law and can be legally owned in Texas only if they are registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

After the shooting, Texas officials hailed the state’s gun laws, including a measure enacted this year that affirmed the right of licensed handgun holders to carry a weapon in places of worship, unless the facility bans them.

That law was passed in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history, which was also at a church. In the 2017 massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, a man who opened fire on a Sunday morning congregation killed more than two dozen people. He later killed himself.

President Donald Trump also tweeted his appreciation for state’s gun legislation Monday night, saying, “Lives were saved by these heroes, and Texas laws allowing them to carry arms!”

Stephen Willeford, center, who confronted and exchanged gunfire with the Sutherland Springs church shooter in 2017, joins church and community members gathered outside West Freeway Church of Christ for a candlelight vigil, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. A gunman shot and killed two people before an armed security officer returned fire, killing him during a service at the church on Sunday. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

 

Isabel Arreola told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that she sat near the gunman in White Settlement and that she had never seen him before. She said he was wearing what appeared to be a disguise and made her uncomfortable.

“I was so surprised because I did not know that so many in the church were armed,” she said.

Sunday’s shooting was the second attack on a religious gathering in the U.S. in less than 24 hours. On Saturday night, a man stabbed five people as they celebrated Hanukkah in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City.

Wallace’s daughter, Tiffany Wallace, told Dallas TV station KXAS that her father was a deacon at the church.

“I ran toward my dad, and the last thing I remember is him asking for oxygen. And I was just holding him, telling him I loved him and that he was going to make it,” Wallace said.

“You just wonder why? How can someone so evil, the devil, step into the church and do this,” she said.

White’s daughter-in-law, Misty York White, called him a hero on Facebook: “You stood up against evil and sacrificed your life. Many lives were saved because of your actions. You have always been a hero to us but the whole world is seeing you as a hero now. We love you, we miss you, we are heartbroken.”

Texas Department of Public Safety regional director Jeff Williams speaks during a news conference, as Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, left, and White Settlement Police Chief J.P. Bevering, right, stand behind him, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in front of West Freeway Church of Christ, in White Settlement, Texas. Police say congregants shot and killed a man who opened fire at the church. (AP Photo/David Kent)

 

Matthew DeSarno, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said the assailant was “relatively transient” but had roots in the area.

Paxton said Monday that the shooter appeared to be “more of a loner.” “I don’t think he had a lot of connections to very many people,” he said.

Investigators searched Kinnunen’s home in nearby River Oaks, a small city where police said his department’s only contact with the gunman was a couple of traffic citations. But Kinnunen appeared to have more serious brushes in other jurisdictions. He was arrested in 2009 on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Fort Worth and in 2013 for theft, according to Tarrant County court records.

He was arrested in 2016 in New Jersey after police found him with 12-gauge shotgun and rounds wrapped in plastic in the area of an oil refinery, according to the Herald News Tribune in East Brunswick. It was not immediately clear how those charges were resolved.

In a 2009 affidavit requesting a court-appointed attorney, Kinnunen listed having a wife and said he was living with four children, according to court records. He told the court he was self-employed in landscaping and irrigation work.

Kinnunen’s extensive criminal record also included assault charges in Oklahoma and Arizona.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, right, puts his hand on West Freeway Church of Christ senior preaching minister Britt Farmer after speaking at a news conference following a fatal shooting at his church, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

 

Court records from Grady County, Oklahoma, obtained by Dallas television station KXAS, show that Kinnunen’s ex-wife sought a protective order in 2012 in which Cindy Glasgow-Voegel described her husband as a “violent, paranoid person with a long line of assault and batteries with and without firearms. He is a religious fanatic, says he’s battling a demon.”

Church officials held a closed meeting and prayer vigil just for church members Monday evening. Farmer told the crowd that he had encountered Kinnunen in the past.

“I had seen him. I had visited with him. I had given him food,” Farmer said.

White Settlement’s website says it was named by local Native Americans in the 1800s for white families then settling in the area. City leaders who worried that the name detracted from the city’s image proposed renaming it in 2005, but voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea.

An FBI agent stands outside West Freeway Church of Christ as authorities continue to investigate a fatal shooting at the church, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. (AP Photo/David Ken

Wilson said the church started the security team about 18 months ago after moving to a new building and becoming concerned about crime in the area. Wilson has been a firearms instructor since 1995, spent six years in the Army National Guard and was a Hood County reserve deputy. He said some of the security team members he trained were at first afraid to touch a gun.

“I don’t feel like I killed a human, I killed an evil,” Wilson said. “That’s how I’m coping with the situation.”

___

Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber in Austin, Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

https://apnews.com/de8a2aebc6d95b9131a08975a5d881f9

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Church Shootings, Crime & Criminals, Deaths, Firearms, Homicide, Lawfully Armed Citizens, Mass Casualty Attacks, Mental Illness, Murder/Attempted Murder, Private Security, Prohibited Person/Felon in Possession, Public Safety, Self-Defense, Shootings, Shootouts, Use of Deadly Force, Victims of Crime, Video

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