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A female shooter opened fire on Sunday afternoon at pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, which has one of the nation’s largest congregations. She was fatally shot by off-duty officers. No one else at the church died.
The woman, between the ages of 30 and 35, entered the church at 1:53 p.m. wearing a trench coat and a backpack and carrying a long rifle, Houston police Chief Troy Finner said during a Sunday press conference after the shooting. A young child who police said was approximately 4 to 5 years old accompanied her.
The woman began shooting upon entering the church. Two off-duty officers shot the female shooter, who died on scene, according to authorities. The child was also shot and is in critical condition at Texas Children’s Hospital, but officers were unclear about how the child was injured. Another 57-year-old man — unassociated with the shooter — was shot in the leg and is being treated.
The shooter threatened that she had a bomb, so officers searched her vehicle and backpack but did not recover any explosives, police said. They continued a search of the church, which seats more than 16,000 people, on Sunday afternoon. Officers also said the shooter was spraying an unidentifiable substance, prompting officers to call upon the Houston Fire Department and hazmat units. Fire Chief Samuel Peña said they found “nothing of concern.”
Law enforcement did not identify the shooter’s motive or her identity. She entered the church minutes before the start of the 2 p.m. Spanish-language service.
“It’s unfortunate that on the day we want to attend church and watch America’s No. 1 sports event, we find ourselves gathered here to respond to this tragedy,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said during the press conference. “We want Houstonians to know they are being protected by their first responders.”
Whitmire thanked first responders for their collaboration. Officers from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Houston Fire Department and Houston Police Department were on scene. The two off-duty agents who shot the shooter were from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Houston Police Department.
Lakewood Church is about 6 miles outside of downtown Houston in the former arena for the Houston Rockets. The nondenominational, evangelical Christian church attracts people from across the country both in person and online.
Osteen, known for his best-selling books and as a televangelist, said at the press conference that he was devastated and “in a fog.”
“We don’t understand why these things happen, but we know God is in control,” Osteen said. “We are going to pray for the little 5-year-old boy and the lady that was deceased, her family, and the other gentlemen.”
Gov. Greg Abbott said he had been in contact with Whitmire and offered state resources, including Department of Public Safety officers and Texas Rangers.
“Our hearts are with those impacted by today’s tragic shooting and the entire Lakewood Church community in Houston,” Abbott said. “Places of worship are sacred.”
Several mass shootings have occurred in U.S. houses of worship in recent years, including the November 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Twenty-six people were killed and 20 others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on parishioners in the rural town east of San Antonio.
In December 2019, a man shot and killed two people during a church service at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a suburb of Fort Worth. A church member shot and killed him in seconds. A Texas law passed in response to the Sutherland Springs shooting allows licensed handgun owners to carry those weapons in places of worship. The White Settlement church formed a volunteer security team in response to that law.
The Sutherland Springs shooting occurred just months before a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, which prompted Abbott to host a series of discussions to identify solutions to gun violence. Lawmakers heard from statewide leaders, school officers and law enforcement, with some proposing universal background checks and policies to keep guns away from people who “pose an immediate danger.”.
But year after year, lawmakers have largely rejected measures that would limit access to guns, instead focusing on enhancing school security and adding more mental health services. Last year, lawmakers filed a slate of gun control bills as they convened for the first time since the Uvalde school shooting in which an 18-year-old gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers. The vast majority of those bills stalled, including a measure that would have raised the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 that Uvalde families spent months pushing.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/11/shooter-megachurch-joel-osteen-houston/.
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