A woman was killed after she opened fire at Joel Osteen’s megachurch, and the boy hit by her bullet was taken to the hospital
HOUSTON (AP) — A woman wearing a trench coat opened fire with a long gun Sunday inside a popular pastor Joel Osteenat a large church in Texas, prompting worshipers to run for safety while two off-duty officers confronted and killed the shooter. Two other people were shot, including a 5-year-old boy in critical condition.
The violence broke out shortly before the Spanish Mass at a Houston church began at 2 p.m., while the rest of the country was preparing for the Super Bowl. The woman entered the Lakewood megachurch — a 16,000-capacity building that was once the arena for the NBA’s Houston Rockets — with the boy, who was later wounded in a shootout with police. A 57-year-old man was also injured.
Details of the confrontation remain unclear in the hours following the tragedy, and police have not revealed the woman’s identity or possible motive. It is also unknown what, if any, relationship the woman had with the boy, and who shot him and the man.
“I will say this,” Houston Police Chief Troy Fenner told reporters during a news conference outside the church. “That female, that suspect, put that child in danger. I’m going to put that blame on her.”
The boy was in critical condition in a children’s hospital, while the man was stable in another hospital due to a hip wound.
The shooting occurred between services at the megachurch, which is regularly attended by 45,000 people each week, making it the third-largest megachurch in the United States, according to the Hartford Institute for Research on Religion. Austin said the violence could have been much worse if it had occurred during the larger 11 a.m. mass.
Eyewitnesses told reporters that they heard several gunshots. Christina Rodriguez, who was inside the church, said Houston TV station KTRK She “started screaming, ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter,'” she and others then ran to the back of a library inside the building, then stood in the stairs before being told it was safe to leave.
Alan Goyetti, a longtime church member whose family is from Honduras, said he was resting inside the church sanctuary before a Spanish service where his mother was serving as an usher when he heard gunshots.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom, and I screamed, ‘Mom,'” he told the Associated Press.
The 35-year-old ran to his mother and they both lay on the ground and prayed as the shooting continued. They remained there for about five minutes until someone told them it was safe to evacuate. Outside, Getty said, he and his mother tried to calm people by worshiping and singing in Spanish, “Move in me, move in me.” Touch my mind and my heart. Move within me, Holy Spirit.”
Despite the chaos, Fenner said the tragedy “could have been much worse” if the two officers had not “engaged” the woman when she opened fire. They were working security at the church on Sunday, and Fenner praised them for their quick actions.
The officers work for the Houston Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, respectively. Both were placed on administrative duty under the protocol.
After she was shot, the woman told police she had a bomb, but authorities said no explosives were found when her car and backpack were searched. First responders continued to search the megachurch for hours afterward.
Osteen said Sunday that his congregation was “devastated.” He added that he would pray for the victims, the woman who fired the gun, and their families. It is not clear where he was at the time of the shooting.
“We will stay strong and keep moving forward,” he said during the press conference with police. “There are the forces of evil, but the forces that we have – the forces of God – are stronger than that. So we will continue to move forward strong, you know, and do what God has called us to do: lift people up and give hope to the world.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement saying, “Our thoughts are with those affected by today’s tragic shooting and the entire Lakewood Church community in Houston. Places of worship are sacred.”
The church has grown tremendously over the past 25 years since Joel Osteen took over after his father’s death in 1999 and introduced an upbeat style of Christian television evangelism that has captured millions of followers. His televised sermons reach about 100 countries. The elder Osteen founded the church in a converted feed store in 1959.
(Tags for translation) Joel Osteen