A woman armed with a long gun opened fire inside Lakewood Church, the megachurch of celebrity pastor Joel Osteen, on Sunday afternoon. She was shot and killed by two off-duty officers who were attending the service. A 5-year-old boy and a 57-year-old man were also wounded in the shooting.
What happened at the church?
The incident occurred shortly before 2 p.m., when the church was preparing for its Spanish language service. According to Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, the woman entered the church wearing a trenchcoat and carrying a long gun. She was accompanied by a young boy, who was later identified as her son.
She started shooting randomly inside the church, causing panic and chaos among the worshippers. Two off-duty officers who were at the church confronted the shooter and exchanged gunfire with her. The woman was fatally wounded and pronounced dead at the scene.
The boy was also shot and critically injured. He was taken to a children’s hospital, where he underwent surgery. The man, who was sitting near the woman, was hit in the hip and taken to another hospital. He was in stable condition.
Who was the shooter and what was her motive?
The identity and motive of the shooter have not been revealed yet. Police are investigating the incident and trying to determine if she had any connection to the church or the victims. Finner said the woman had a history of mental illness and had been involved in a domestic dispute earlier that day.
He also said the woman had put her son in danger by bringing him to the church and engaging in the shooting. “That female, that suspect, put that baby in danger. I’m going to put that blame on her,” he said.
How did the church and the pastor react?
Lakewood Church is one of the largest and most influential megachurches in the U.S., with a weekly attendance of 45,000 people and a global reach through its televised sermons. Osteen, who is known for his positive and inspirational messages, is one of the most popular and wealthy pastors in the country.
Osteen joined the police at a news conference outside the church and said he was “devastated” by the shooting. He said the violence could have been much worse if it had happened during the earlier, larger 11 a.m. service. He said he would pray for the victims and for the woman who did the shooting and their families.
“We’re going to stay strong and we’re going to continue to, to move forward,” he said. “There are forces of evil, but the forces that are for us – the forces of God – are stronger than that. So we’re going to keep going strong and just, you know, doing what God’s called us to do: lift people up and give hope to the world.”
How did the witnesses and the community respond?
The shooting shocked and saddened the witnesses and the community, who expressed their support and solidarity with the church and the victims. Many people took to social media to share their prayers and condolences.
Christina Rodriguez, who was inside the church, told Houston television station KTRK that she heard multiple gunshots and ran to the backside of a library inside the building. She said she was terrified and thought she was going to die.
Alan Guity, a longtime church member, said he was resting inside the sanctuary before the Spanish service as his mother was working as an usher when he heard the gunshots. He said he ran to his mother and they both laid flat on the floor and prayed.
He said he was grateful that the officers were there to stop the shooter and save lives. He said he still loved the church and would not let the incident deter him from attending.