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A woman entered a Houston megachurch with a child and began shooting. Here’s what we know

Feb 12, 2024, 10:08 AM

Carlos Gonzalez, a worship singer, hugs a fellow churchgoer after a shooting at Joel Osteen's Lakew...

Carlos Gonzalez, a worship singer, hugs a fellow churchgoer after a shooting at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston. Mandatory Credit: Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters

(CNN) — A woman who walked into a popular Texas megachurch Sunday afternoon with a long gun and a young child opened fire before she was killed by law enforcement officers on scene. The gunfire left the child in critical condition and another man injured, officials said.

Authorities are now probing the shooting at televangelist and pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church – roughly 6 miles from downtown Houston.

The woman, estimated to be between 30 and 35 years old, entered the church shortly before 2 p.m. wearing a trench coat and backpack and opened fire, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said in a Sunday afternoon news conference.

The shooter died at the scene after two law enforcement officers intervened and she was shot, Finner said.

The young child was hit during the shooting and is in the hospital in critical condition, the police chief said. It’s unclear who fired the shot that injured the child. CNN has reached out to police for more information.

Police have not shared details about a possible motive in the shooting or said what the woman’s relationship is to the child who accompanied her. The injured man was shot in the leg and sought treatment at a hospital, Finner said.

The gunfire unfolded while the church was “in between services” and preparing to go into a Spanish service, Osteen said in Sunday’s news conference.

“I can only imagine if it would have happened during the 11 o’clock service,” he said.

Video from a church feed shows a host making announcements in Spanish, interrupted by the sound of gunshots and screams.

The shooting is just the latest instance of gun violence disrupting American life at places once considered safe. This one was at a place of worship. Others have been at schoolsgrocery stores, outlet malls, hospitalscollege campuses and house parties.

Here’s what we know.

2 off-duty law enforcement officers confronted the shooter

The woman entered the church accompanied by a child who Finner estimated to be between “4 to 5 years old.”

“Once she entered, at some point she began to fire,” the chief said.

Two off-duty officers were present: a 28-year-old Houston Police Department officer and a 38-year-old agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, both with less than five years of service. The two officers engaged the shooter and she was struck, the police chief said.

The shooter used an AR-15 that had “Free Palestine” written on it, according to a federal law enforcement source. Investigators are trying to determine whether she was politically motivated or a disturbed individual, the source said.

“I want to commend those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse,” Finner said. “But they stepped up and they did their job, and I want to thank them for that.”

Both officers who engaged with the shooter will be placed on administrative duty pending the investigation, as is protocol with officer-involved shootings, Finner said.

“It’s traumatic not only for our community but it’s certainly traumatic for the officers who had to take a life and we worry about their mental health as well, so our prayers are with them,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said in Sunday’s news conference.

Woman also threatened a bomb

The shooter also threatened that she had a bomb, but authorities searched her vehicle and backpack and found no explosives, the Houston police chief said.

She was also spraying “some type of substance on the ground,” Finner said, but he did not share further details. Peña said fire authorities were on scene and were going to “take our time to ensure that any issue, any risk that we see is properly vetted.”

“Right now, I can safely say that we have not found anything that is of concern to our community or to this location, but we’re going to take our time to ensure that we look at every aspect,” the fire chief added.

CNN has reached out to the Houston Fire Department for further information.

Authorities were conducting a methodical search of the church building – located in what used to be a sports arena – and do not believe there is any further danger to the public, the police chief said Sunday. The shooting appeared to be an isolated incident, he added.

On Sunday night, authorities searched a home in Conroe, Texas, in connection with the shooting, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed Monday. Spokesperson Melissa Garcia told CNN the ATF-Houston Division was one of the law enforcement agencies involved in the search, but provided no additional details on what they were searching for. The home is about 50 minutes north of Lakewood Church.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he has been in contact with local and state officials and offered “the full support and resources” of the state to help the community.

“Join Cecilia and me in praying for his community during this difficult time and for the brave men and women in blue who acted quickly to respond to this tragedy,” Abbott added.

Witness describes ‘erratic’ sound of shots and screaming

With a background in television production, Osteen took over his father’s church in 1999 and built a huge following. His services draw 45,000 attendees to the church weekly, in addition to people around the nation who tune in for online and television sermons, according to his website.

“We’re devastated,” Osteen said. “We’ve been here 65 years and to have somebody shooting at your church…”

A woman who was inside the church at the time of the shooting told CNN affiliate KHOU Osteen was greeting people after the end of the service and she was among the last to meet him.

Soon after, she told the news station, she heard repeated bangs, almost like “mechanical sounds.”

“It almost sounded like folding tables were being dismantled and dropped to the floor,” she said. “But they were erratic.”

Then, the woman said she heard another set of gunshots and saw people screaming and running. She ran into a room and squeezed inside with multiple other people, including a child. The group put two large wooden slats on the door to keep it from opening, and then, they began to pray.

“We were thankful,” she said. “We could have been a casualty. We could have been shot.”

CNN’s Raja Razek, Ashley Killough, and John Miller contributed to this report.


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A woman entered a Houston megachurch with a child and began shooting. Here’s what we know