White Settlement, TX – The heroic churchgoer who fatally shot the active shooter who was gunning down parishioners inside a Texas church on Sunday is a firearms instructor, a former law enforcement officer, and a great-grandfather.
West Freeway Church of Christ member and volunteer security team member Jack Wilson ended the gunman’s attack within six seconds.
“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,” Wilson wrote in a Facebook post late Sunday night.
“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,” he wrote. “Please pray for all the members and their families in this time. Thank you for your prayers and understanding.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that Wilson made it a point to prepare himself and others to handle potentially deadly confrontations.
“He was a reserve deputy and had significant training, had his own shooting range, had taught other people how to shoot, had taught many people in this church how to be prepared,” Paxton said during a press conference, according to KDVR.
“He’s not just responsible for his actions, which ultimately saved the lives of maybe hundreds of people, but he’s also responsible for training hundreds in that church,” the attorney general noted.
According to Paxton, Wilson was the only individual who actually returned fire during the attack.
He fired just once, dropping the gunman instantly.
“I don’t consider myself a hero at all,” Wilson told WFAA. “I did what I was trained to do.”
Witnesses said that the gunman, later identified as 43-year-old repeat offender Keith Thomas Kinnunen, was wearing a fake beard as part of an apparent disguise when he showed up at the church on Sunday morning, KXAS reported.
Members of the church’s volunteer security team took note of Kinnunen, who they believed was “acting suspiciously,” church minister Jack Cummings told The New York Times.
The team of parishioners, all of whom are licensed to carry firearms, train with their weapons frequently, according to the minister.
Footage from the church’s livestream of the service showed the suspect as he made his way out of the pew to receive communion, WFAA reported.
He walked away briefly before he turned back towards 64-year-old church deacon Anton “Tony” Wallace, who just served him communion.
Kinnunen appeared to speak to Wallace for a moment, then suddenly pulled out a shotgun, the video showed.
Richard White, 76, was seated nearby, but immediately rose to his feet and reached back towards his waistband.
But before he could fire his weapon, Kinnunen opened fire.
“He shot Richard, because Richard and I were both drawing our weapons at the same time,” Wilson told WFAA. “Then he shot Richard and then he shot Tony Wallace.”
Frantic parishioners jumped to their feet as they scrambled for cover, creating barriers between Wilson and the gunman.
But the former deputy saw his opportunity about a half-second later.
“The only clear shot I had was his head because I still had people in the pews that were not all the way down…that was my one shot,” he told KXAS. “When I teach people, I teach them not to shoot the head unless that’s all you have…If that’s the only shot you’ve got, then that’s the shot you take.”
He killed the gunman with a single round, WFFA reported.
“I don’t feel like I killed a human. I killed an evil,” Wilson said of killing the man who murdered Wallace and White. “That’s how I’m coping with the situation.”
Wallace’s daughter, Tiffany Wallace, said she was just feet away from her father when he was killed.
“It just happened so fast,” she told KXAS. “The guy just stood up from the pew, turned toward my dad and I guess he shot at the security guard…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.”
Tiffany said that her father, a deacon and lifelong member of the church, was also a registered nurse, father, grandfather, and husband.
Tiffany said she has forgiven the gunman, but that she is thankful that the armed parishioners stopped him before he could slaughter more innocent people.
“He is a hero to me,” she said of Wilson.
Wilson, who is currently running for Precinct 3 commissioner in Hood County, was a Hood County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy from 1980 until 1986, according to his campaign page.
He is a license to carry instructor and a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement instructor, and continues to work closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
He is also the former owner of On-Target Firearms Training Academy, according to KXAS.
Wilson, a married father of three daughters, has 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) also described Wilson’s actions as “heroic,” according to USA Today.
“It cannot be overstated how important it is that everyone recognize what took place here today,” DPS Regional Director Jeoff Williams said during a press conference on Sunday. “The citizens who were inside that church undoubtedly saved 242 other parishioners.”
The church’s senior minister, Britt Farmer, said he appreciates the fact that he lives in a country where people have the right to defend themselves and others.
“We lost two great men today,” Farmer said, according to The New York Times. “It could have been a lot worse. I’m thankful that our government has allowed us the opportunity to protect ourselves.”
A new law allowing licensed firearms owners to carry weapons in places of worship went into effect in Texas in September.
“Had we not had not had the security team in place it would have been a much, in my opinion, probably a much more severe outcome,” Wilson told KXAS. “You don’t know when something bad is going to happen or where it’s going to happen. You carry it [your gun] anywhere and everywhere you legally can because you never know when you’re going to have to use it.”
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said that the attacked marked “a horrific day in Tarrant County,” The Dallas Morning News reported.
“Today evil walked boldly among us,” Sheriff Waybourn said. “But let me remind you, good people raised up and stopped it before it got worse.”
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick praised the armed citizens for their prompt and heroic actions, KXAS reported.
“This team responded quickly and within six seconds, the shooting was over,” Patrick said, according to USA Today. “Two of the parishioners who were volunteers of the security force drew their weapons and took out the killer immediately, saving untold number of lives.”
“Had the shooter been able to indiscriminately start firing into the parishioners sitting there in front of him or the pastor, we would have had many more lives lost today and many more serious injuries,” he said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbot denounced the attack, calling it an “evil act of violence.”
“I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life,” the governor said. “Cecilia and I ask all Texans to join us in praying for the White Settlement community and for all those affected by this horrible tragedy.”
Kinnunen and his brother, Joel, spent time living together on the streets before Joel committed suicide in 2009, the gunman’s sister, Amy Kinnunen, told CNN.
Joel’s birthday was also on Sunday.
Amy said she believes that her brother chose to murder innocent victims inside the church because of his close relationship with the Lord.
“Any problem that you had, he could give you a Bible scripture,” Amy told CNN. “He was very close to the Lord. I believe that is why he chose the church.”
Investigators have not disclosed a possible motive.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said that the shooter was “relatively transient,” but that he did have ties to the area.
SAC DeSarno said the shooter had a history of prior arrests, but that he was not on any watch lists, The New York Times reported.