A child and a man were injured and a woman was killed after she opened fire at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston on Sunday, police said.
The woman entered the church, accompanied by a boy believed to be about 5 years old, and started shooting, Police Chief Troy Finner said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
Two off-duty law enforcement officers who were at the church when shots were fired about 1:50 p.m. opened fire, and the woman was killed, Finner said.
The child was in critical condition, and a man, who is in his 50s, was being treated for an injury to his leg, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.
Finner said that if law enforcement gunfire is responsible for striking the child, “I’m going to put that blame on her” for putting the boy in danger.
The woman had a “long rifle” and a backpack and was wearing a trench coat when she entered the church from a parking lot and started shooting, Finner said.
Her identity has not been released. Finner described her as being in her early 30s. Motive is part of the investigation.
The woman threatened that she had a bomb and sprayed an unknown substance on the ground, Finner said. It was not clear what the substance was as fire department personnel arrived to investigate and clear the scene, he said.
Police checked a vehicle and a backpack for possible explosives, none of which have been reported.
The two officers who opened fire were off-duty. One is an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the other is a Houston police officer, Finner said.
The FBI’s and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Houston offices were assisting police with the investigation, spokespeople for both agencies said.
Police believe that the shooting was an isolated incident and that there is no further danger to the public.
Shooting happened between services
The shooting happened between services as people were arriving for Spanish service, Osteen said.
A livestream of the day’s scheduled events was interrupted by gunfire and went offline. Until then, the stream showed pastor Jorge Basave, speaking in Spanish from what appeared to be a lobby area of the church, giving the website for a coming Lakewood Church event.
Gunfire was heard, Basave paused and continued before another shot was heard, someone shrieked, and the feed was halted. Video of the livestream has been marked private.
A woman named Maria who is from Colombia and witnessed the shooting said she heard the first shot about eight minutes before a church service started.
“After the second shot, everybody started running. I ran with my kids … my family,” she told NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston.
Then she heard eight more shots, she said. She and her family lay down on the floor until someone told them it was safe to leave the church.
She said she called her husband and father to say “I love you,” thinking it might be the last time. She said she never imagined she would be in something like this.
Another woman, Maria Ortiz, said she was on the church’s terrace level as part of a choir when she heard gunfire and was not sure what to do. She froze and took the event as “a sign” that perhaps it was her last day of life, she said.
“I’m ready,” she said she told herself before she was swept up in the chaos of evacuation.
“I started to follow my sisters, my brothers,” Ortiz said. “Thank you, God. It’s wonderful because God is over [me].”
‘We just ran’
Denise Davis, who said she is part of a church medical team on hand for emergencies, said she heard “multiple gunshots” coming from “different types of guns.”
“Lot of gunpowder, lot of smoke,” she said. “So we just ran.”
Davis said she was asked to return to treat at least two patients, whose injuries she declined to describe. “I can’t tell you,” she said.
Cherami Fisher said she had exited a restroom as gunfire erupted and spotted Osteen in the same hallway she would use to exit the building.
“I had just gone into the bathroom, got out and heard the bam-bam,” said Fisher, who said she just moved to the region from Los Angeles.
Osteen said that he was “in a fog” after the violence and that he was keeping the injured in his prayers.
“We don’t understand why all these things happen,” he said at the news conference. “But we know God’s in control.”
In a subsequent statement on Facebook, Osteen urged his congregation to lean on their faith to cope with anguish.
“Our community is devastated by today’s events and grateful for the swift actions of law enforcement,” he said. “Together, we will rise above this tragedy and stand firm in our commitment to love and support one another.”
Houston Mayor John Whitmire lamented that the violence took place while people were preparing to practice their faith and others were anticipating the Super Bowl.
“We find ourselves gathered here to respond to this tragedy,” he said.
In a statement Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said, “Our hearts are with those impacted by today’s tragic shooting and the entire Lakewood Church community in Houston. Places of worship are sacred.”
Abbott said he has offered “full support and resources of the State of Texas” to Whitmire “to help this community and help bring swift justice to the criminal who committed this heinous act.”
The megachurch is regularly attended by 45,000 people every week, making it the third-largest megachurch in the U.S., according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Osteen’s televised sermons reach about 100 countries.
The church has grown tremendously over the past 25 years since Osteen took over after his father’s death in 1999 and introduced an upbeat style of Christian televangelism that has captured a following of millions. The elder Osteen founded the church in a converted feed store in 1959.
First appeared on www.nbcnews.com