Shooter entered Texas megachurch with young son and used AR-style rifle in attack, police say

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The shooter who opened fire at a Texas megachurch on Sunday before being killed by security officers had a history of mental illness and used an AR-style rifle in the attack that also seriously injured his 7-year-old son, authorities said Monday. .

Houston police identified the shooter at Lakewood Church as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36, who used male and female aliases. However, investigators who examined previous police reports discovered that Moreno identified as a woman, said Houston Police Commander Chris Hassig.

Houston police and federal investigators said Monday that they had not established a motive for the shooting but were investigating a dispute involving Moreno and the family of Moreno’s ex-husband.

The attack occurred between services at the Houston megachurch, located in a former NBA arena, and sent worshipers scrambling for safety.

During the shooting, Moreno’s 7-year-old son was shot in the head and remained in critical condition Monday, authorities said. Moreno, who was killed by officers, was not a known member of Osteen’s congregation, church spokesman Don Iloff said.

Police and FBI investigators said they have not established a motive for the shooting, but were investigating a dispute involving Moreno and the family of Moreno’s ex-husband. Hassig and others said Moreno had a history of mental illness, including his emergency detention in 2016, but did not provide additional details.

Investigators also found anti-Semitic writing from the shooter, and Hassig noted that Moreno’s rifle had a sticker that said “Palestine” on the stock. He described Moreno as a “lone wolf” who acted alone.

Police searched Moreno’s residence in Conroe, a city more than 50 miles north of the church. Court records show Moreno had prior arrests and was involved in a divorce and child custody battle in 2022, in which Moreno’s former mother-in-law indicated she had sought counsel from Lakewood pastoral staff.

Court documents do not indicate which staff the woman contacted. Iloff said she had not found anyone familiar with the contact described in the legal documents.

Moreno appeared to have legally purchased the rifle used in the December attack, and investigators were looking into how he obtained it, authorities said. Moreno also entered the church with a .22-caliber rifle, police said.

Investigators said Moreno and the boy entered the church building shortly before the 2 p.m. Spanish service after Moreno pointed a gun at an unarmed security guard.

Moreno began shooting once inside, and guards inside the building — off-duty Houston Police Officer Christopher Moreno and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Agent Adrian Herrera — returned fire, killing the shooter, they said. the researchers. Christopher Moreno is not related to Genesse Moreno, Finner said.

All of the shooting took place in a hallway of the church, and none of the violence extended to the main sanctuary, Hassig said, describing the confrontation as a “shooting battle” that lasted several minutes.

“They stood their ground in the face of point-blank rifle fire,” Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Chairman Kevin Lilly said of the security guards. “They were a wall that existed between the faithful and terror.”

Both officers fired their weapons, but investigators still don’t know if one of them accidentally shot Moreno’s son, Finner said. The boy remained in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, authorities said Monday.

Finner said the shooter told officers after he was shot that there was a bomb, but a search found no explosives.

Records in Harris County, where Houston is located, showed that Moreno, under the names Jeffery Escalante-Moreno or Jeffery Escalante, was charged in six criminal cases between 2005 and 2011.

The charges ranged from forging a US$100 bill to stealing socks, hats and makeup, and assault for kicking a detention officer. The August 2009 assault conviction sent Moreno to prison for 180 days.

In a confusing 2022 application for a protective order against Moreno’s former mother-in-law that Moreno wrote without the help of an attorney, Moreno complained of being threatened and followed. Moreno also said that he had received text messages from FBI Director Christopher Wray.

In a separate court filing seeking to be named guardian of Moreno’s son, the former mother-in-law alleged that Moreno was mentally ill and that the boy was being neglected and abused.

Phone messages from members of Moreno’s family seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Lakewood 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 said the violence could have been worse if the shooting had occurred during the earlier, larger Sunday morning service. Iloff, the church spokesman, said Osteen was inside the church but on the first floor during the shooting, which occurred on the second floor.

The shots terrified the faithful.

Alan Guity has been a member of the church since 1998. He said he heard gunshots while resting inside the church sanctuary while his mother worked as an usher.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom. And I screamed, ‘Mom!'” he said. Guity, 35, said she ran toward her mother and they both lay on the ground as the shooting continued.

Osteen, 60, took the helm of Lakewood Church after John Osteen, his father and the church’s founding pastor, died in 1999. The church has grown dramatically under his leadership.

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

Its televised services reach about 100 countries and its church stadium renovation cost nearly $100 million.

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