NATIONAL NEWS

Here’s the latest on the investigation into the shooting at Joel Osteen’s megachurch

Feb 14, 2024, 12:51 PM

Andrea Espinoza, center, and Nicole Guevara are interviewed by Telemundo reporter Mitchell Zavallos...

Andrea Espinoza, center, and Nicole Guevara are interviewed by Telemundo reporter Mitchell Zavallos on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Houston, about their experiences during the shooting inside Lakewood Church in Houston. A shooting at the church in left a woman dead and a child critically wounded. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

HOUSTON (AP) — A shooter’s motive for opening fire in celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch remains unclear three days after the violence, while her criminal record and documented history of mental illness come under greater scrutiny.

Police say Genesse Moreno, entered Lakewood Church with her 7-year-old son on Sunday and began firing into a hallway, sending worshippers scrambling for safety. Two people were wounded in the attack, including Moreno’s son, who was shot in the head and remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Moreno, 36, was shot and killed by two off-duty officers working security at the Houston church, according to authorities.

Here’s what to know about the shooting:

WHAT HAPPENED SUNDAY?

Gunshots rang out inside the massive church, formerly the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, terrifying worshippers just before 2 p.m.

Moreno entered the church wearing a trenchcoat and backpack and armed with a long rifle, police said. She pointed a gun at an unarmed security guard and once inside, began firing.

Moreno did not reach the main sanctuary, however, and was killed after exchanging gunfire with two off-duty officers — a Houston police officer and an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Moreno’s son was struck in the head, police said, while a man in his 50s suffered a gunshot wound to his hip.

Moreno had told officers she had a bomb but authorities said that no explosives or hazardous material were found at the scene, police said. Police said Moreno also carried a .22 caliber rifle that she did not fire during the shooting.

WHAT WAS THE SHOOTER’S MOTIVE?

Few details have emerged about what Moreno’s motivation could have been, and police have given no details about where and how she obtained the rifle used in the attack.

Police on Monday searched her residence in Conroe, a city more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of the church. Investigators found antisemitic writings by Moreno, Houston Police Commander Chris Hassig said, noting that Moreno’s former in-laws are Jewish. The rifle used in the shooting also had a “Palestine” sticker on the buttstock.

Hassig described Moreno as a “lone wolf” who was not acting as any part of a larger group. He also said that she sometimes used both male and female aliases, but investigators had determined through interviews and past police reports that she identified as female.

Moreno further had a documented history of mental illness and several misdemeanor convictions.

Among other things, investigators are examining a dispute between Moreno and her ex-husband’s family, authorities said. Walli Carranza, Moreno’s former mother-in-law, said in court filings from Moreno’s 2022 divorce that she tried to alert authorities about the danger her ex-daughter-in-law posed but authorities failed to take action.

In those filings, Carranza alleged Moreno had a history of threatening people with guns or being careless with how they were stored, including keeping an unlocked gun in her son’s diaper bag and threatening to shoot her ex-husband while their son slept in the back seat of their car.

Moreno’s criminal history included charges for forging a $100 bill, a 2009 assault conviction for kicking a detention officer — which resulted in a 180-day county jail sentence — and a 2022 misdemeanor count for unlawfully carrying a weapon.

HOW WAS SHE ABLE TO BUY THE RIFLE?

Texas has fewer restrictions on buying and owning guns than many other states.

Moreno’s misdemeanor convictions would not have stopped her from purchasing a gun in the Lone Star State. And while her history of mental illness could have triggered federal restrictions, legal experts said there’s not yet enough information that’s publicly available to say.

Houston police said Moreno was put under emergency detention by officers in 2016, but did not elaborate. In Texas, an emergency detention is not an arrest but allows an officer to detain a “person with mental illness” if they pose a “substantial risk of serious harm” to themselves or others.

However, not everyone who is detained in those situations loses their right to own a gun, said Lindsay Nichols, policy director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

People who are in a mental health crisis can be temporarily taken into custody, Nichols said. And sometimes doctors decide that they’re no longer a danger and release them.

Others undergo a formal process in the courts, usually within a couple of weeks, wherein a judge officially commits them to a mental health institution, Nichols said. Only then does the person lose his or her rights to own a gun in Texas and most other states.

Texas also lacks a formal “red flag” law, which generally allows law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to order the seizure or surrender of guns from someone who is deemed dangerous, often because of mental health concerns or threats of violence.

Nichols stressed that not all the facts about Moreno have come out. She said sometimes records of someone’s official commitment to a mental institution fail to make it into the background check system, but Texas has generally “put some efforts” into preventing that.

Wesley Wittig, a Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor, said Moreno’s mental health history did not come up in the 2022 misdemeanor case against her, but noted there also isn’t a comprehensive mental health tracking system to flag such issues.

The shooting is o ne of many that have involved shooters who legally obtained guns despite criminal history and mental health problems.

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 his leadership 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 in promoting 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.

___

Associated Press reporter Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia, contributed to this story.

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Here’s the latest on the investigation into the shooting at Joel Osteen’s megachurch