HOUSTON (AP) — A woman in a trenchcoat opened fire with a long gun inside celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Texas, sending worshippers rushing to find safety while two off-duty officers confronted and killed the shooter. Two other people were shot and injured, including a 5-year-old boy who was in critical condition.
The violence erupted shortly before the Houston church’s 2 p.m. Spanish service was set to begin, just as the rest of the country was preparing for the Super Bowl. The woman entered the enormous Lakewood Church – a building with a 16,000-person capacity that was previously an arena for the NBA’s Houston Rockets — with the boy who was later hurt in the shootout with police. A man in his 50s was also wounded.
Moreno, originally from El Salvador, who had a lengthy criminal record, also previously used the name Jeffrey Escalante Moreno, investigators said. The shooter was killed after off-duty police officers at the church responded to the incident. Police said two people were injured – a 57-year-old man and the child who accompanied the shooter. The child is not expected to survive, a Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle.
Preliminary reporting indicated the shooter was transgender, but in a Monday news conference, investigators identified her as a woman and the biological mother of the 7-year-old child.
A search warrant showed that Moreno pointed an AR-15 at the officers who then fired upon her and killed her in self-defense.
The preliminary reporting also indicated that the message “Free Palestine” was written on the rifle; investigators said later it was just “Palestine.”
Lakewood Church shooter identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno; ‘Palestine’ written on gun
Moreno, 36, had a criminal history including convictions for assaulting a police officer in 2009 and forgery in 2010.
Members of the FBI, the Texas Rangers, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and the Conroe and Houston Police Departments were investigating a property in Conroe, north of Houston, that was believed to be Moreno’s residence, KPRC reported.
The shooting unfolded Sunday afternoon before the Houston megachurch’s 2 p.m. Spanish service was set to begin.
Moreno entered the church with a long rifle, wearing a backpack and a trench coat and accompanied by the child, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said.
After the shooter opened fire, off-duty officers at the scene “engaged” the shooter and returned fire. Moreno was pronounced dead at the scene.
During a news conference, Osteen thanked law enforcement and said that he was “devastated” by the shooting.
“We don’t understand why all these things happened, but we know God’s in control,” Osteen said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the shooting “tragic.”
The motive for the shooting was unclear.