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A volunteer member of a security team who is running for county commissioner is being hailed for saving lives by quickly ending a shooting Sunday at a North Texas church.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton described parishioner Jack Wilson as a onetime reserve sheriff's deputy with extensive training who has taught shooting at his own range.
Wilson was one of two congregants who confronted a gunman during an attack that killed two people at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a town of about 17,000 people near Fort Worth. Paxton said Wilson was the one who brought down the suspect with a single shot.
"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," Paxton said at a news conference Monday.
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The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the victims as Anton "Tony'' Wallace, 64, of Fort Worth and Richard White, 67, of River Oaks.
The gunman was identified as Keith Thomas Kinnunen, 43. His motive is under investigation.
Investigators searched Kinnunen’s home in River Oaks, a small nearby city where police said his department’s only contact with the suspect came from a couple of traffic citations. “He didn’t exist until yesterday,” Deputy Police Chief Charles Stewart said.
However, Tarrant County records show Kinnunen was arrested in 2009 on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Fort Worth and in 2013 for theft. He also had a 2016 brush with the law in New Jersey.
Wilson said he went on high alert when he noticed the suspect walking in wearing a hat, long coat and wig, and he and White — a fellow security volunteer — were reaching for their guns when Kinnunen approached Wallace, who was serving Communion.
The attacker shot White and Wallace, sending parishioners scrambling for cover, before Wilson could get a clear line of fire.
“I didn’t have a clear window because I had members that were jumping, going chaotic,” Wilson, 71, said from his home in nearby Granbury. "They were standing up. I had to wait about half a second, a second, to get my shot. I fired one round. The subject went down.”
Wilson, who is running for commissioner in Hood County, said in a posting on his campaign's Facebook page that he's thankful to be able to serve as the church's head of security.
He added that Sunday's events "put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in, but evil exists.''
Texas officials lauded a state law that took effect in September allowing weapons in places of worship unless the facility bans them. Paxton said the church’s security team was formally organized once the measure was enacted.
Licensed handgun owners can legally carry loaded weapons into Texas churches that do not have posted signs banning weapons. Church security became a major issue in the state after a gunman walked into a church in Sutherland Springs two years ago and fatally shot 26 people and wounded 20 others.
President Donald Trump offered prayers to the "families of the victims and the congregation" on Monday night, more than 30 hours after the shooting, and praised the actions of "brave" parishioners via Twitter.
He added, "Lives were saved by these heroes, and Texas laws allowing them to carry arms!"
Church officials held a closed meeting and prayer vigil just for church members Monday evening. Britt Farmer, the church's senior minister, told the crowd he had encountered Kinnunen in the past.
“I had seen him. I had visited with him. I had given him food,” Farmer said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said Kinnunen had roots in the area but is “relatively transient." DeSarno also said the suspect has been arrested several times but did not specify on which charges.
Parishioner Isabel Arreola told the Star-Telegram that she sat near the gunman and that she’d never seen him before Sunday’s service. She said he appeared to be wearing a disguise, perhaps a fake beard, and that he made her uncomfortable.
Then she saw him take out a shotgun, start firing and get shot himself.
“I was so surprised because I did not know that so many in the church were armed,” she said.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that immediate reaction was crucial.
“This team responded quickly, and within six seconds the shooting was over,'' Patrick said. "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.''
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There were more than 240 parishioners in the church at the time of the shooting, authorities said, and the service was being livestreamed to countless homes.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement of condemnation for the "evil act of violence" at a place of worship.
"I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life," Abbott 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."
Contributing: The Austin-American Statesman; The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas church shooting: Firearms instructor Jack Wilson hailed as hero