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What to know about a shooting at Joel Osteen’s megachurch

Feb 11, 2024, 10:02 PM | Updated: Feb 12, 2024, 1:34 pm

HOUSTON (AP) — A shooter’s motive for opening fire in celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch remained unclear Monday as authorities searched the suspect’s home in suburban Houston and identified the weapon used in the attack as an AR-style rifle.

The house in Conroe, Texas, is more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Lakewood Church, where Sunday’s shooting in between busy services sent worshippers scrambling to find safety.

The shooter was identified as 36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno, according to an affidavit seeking a search warrant released by the Montgomery County district attorney’s office. Police say Moreno was shot and killed by two off-duty officers working security at the church, one of the largest megachurches in the U.S.

Two other people were shot and wounded, including the shooter’s young son, who entered the church with them.

Here’s what to know about the shooting:

HOW DID THE SHOOTING UNFOLD?

The sound of gunshots inside the massive church, which was formerly the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, startled worshippers just before 2 p.m. Sunday, around the time many people were getting ready to watch the Super Bowl later.

Houston police Chief Troy Finner said at a news conference Sunday that the shooter entered the church wearing a trenchcoat and backpack and armed with a long rifle.

Finner said the shooter entered the church with the young boy but did not describe their relationship. The suspect began shooting and was confronted by two off-duty officers, a Houston police officer and an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, who returned fire.

Before being shot and killed, the suspect told officers that they had a bomb and were carrying “a yellow in color rope and substances consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices, which appeared to be a detonation cord,” according to the search warrant affidavit. Finner said Sunday that a search found no explosives.

He and other authorities at the scene praised the officers for taking down the shooter.

“It could have been worse,” Finner said. “But they stepped up and did their job.”

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

Moreno’s son, who authorities described as a 7-year-old, was shot in the head and remained in critical condition Monday. The boy was initially described Sunday as a 5-year-old.

It was unclear how the boy, who was taken to a Houston children’s hospital, was struck by gunfire. When asked whether the boy was shot by one of the off-duty officers returning fire on the suspect, Finner said he did not want to speculate but added: “That suspect put that baby in danger.”

Authorities described the other victim as a man in his 50s who was wounded in his hip.

HOW DID WORSHIPPERS INSIDE REACT?

Alan Guity, whose family is from Honduras, has been a member of the church since 1998. He said he heard gunshots while resting inside the church’s sanctuary as his mother was working as an usher.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom. And I yelled, ‘Mom,’” he said.

Guity, 35, said he ran to his mother and they both lay flat on the floor as the gunfire continued. Guity said he and his mother prayed and stayed on the floor for about five minutes until someone told them it was safe to leave the building. As he was led outside, Guity could see people were crying and looking for loved ones.

Guity said he and his mother tried to calm people down by worshiping and singing in Spanish, “Move in me, move in me. Touch my mind and my heart. Move within me Holy Spirit.”

WHO IS JOEL OSTEEN?

Osteen, 60, took the helm of Lakewood Church after John Osteen, his father and the church’s founding pastor, passed away in 1999. The church has grown dramatically under Joel Osteen and is regularly attended by 45,000 people weekly, making it the third-largest megachurch in the U.S., according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Osteen is a leader of what is known as the prosperity gospel, a belief that God wants his followers to be wealthy and healthy. He is the author of several best-selling books, including, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential.”

His televised services reach about 100 countries and renovating his church’s arena cost nearly $100 million.

After Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston in 2017, Osteen opened his church to those seeking shelter after social media critics slammed the televangelist for not offering to house people in need.

___

Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber in Texas contributed to this report.

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What to know about a shooting at Joel Osteen’s megachurch