In a statement, the Air Force confirmed that Kelley's conviction was not entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database as it should have been.
The branch's top officials ordered an internal review to be led by the inspectors general of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Defense Department that will also examine whether other cases have also been misreported.
That oversight meant it was ultimately up to Willeford, who lived next to the First Baptist Church, to be the first one to face down a dangerous gunman.
After Willeford's shot struck Kelley, "He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window," Willeford told a local television station. That's when Willeford flagged down a nearby pickup truck driver, Johnnie Langendorff, 27, and the pair started chasing the gunman.
They sped after Kelley, reaching 95 mph on the two-lane county roads surrounding Sutherland Springs before Kelley drove his SUV off the road.
"We got within just a few feet of him and then he just drove off the road," Langendorff said in an interview.
The two men waited on the road, Willeford's gun aimed at Kelley's vehicle. The SUV and its driver didn't move.
Five minutes later, dozens of law enforcement officials descended on the scene. Kelley was dead. Before he crashed, he had used his cellphone "to notify his father that he had been shot and that he didn't think he was going to make it," Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. "Subsequently, he shot himself."
While most of the shocked residents of the closely-knit, deeply religious and largely pro-gun community were in no mood to discuss the politics of gun rights after Sunday's events, they seemed to agree agreed on one thing: Langendorff and Willeford were heroes, and they represented the best of Sutherland Springs.
Langendorff, who on Monday was wearing a cross on a chain around his neck, a pearl snap shirt and a cowboy hat, was matter-of-fact about how it had all gone down.
"I just did what I had to do," he said. "I don't feel like a hero. I just did what most people around here would do."
(Staff writer Pearce reported from Los Angeles, special correspondent Savage from Sutherland Springs, and staff writer Agrawal from New York. Staff writer David Cloud contributed from Washington.)
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