Police: Boy injured in Texas megachurch shooting suspect’s son
HOUSTON — The young boy who was critically injured in a shooting at a Texas megachurch on Sunday was the son of the shooter, authorities said Monday.
Police identified the shooter as 36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno, and said at a news conference that Moreno had a history of mental illness, including being placed under emergency detention in 2016.
The boy, who authorities described as a 7-year-old, remained in critical condition Monday with a gunshot wound to the head. He had been described as a 5-year-old on Sunday.
A motive for the attack that sent worshippers rushing for safety in between busy services at celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church remains unclear.
Moreno was killed after pointing the weapon at the security officers, authorities said.
In addition to the boy, a man in his 50s was also injured in the shooting, according to authorities.
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 happened during the earlier and larger late Sunday morning service.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner at a news conference Sunday said the shooter wore a trenchcoat and backpack and was armed with a long rifle when they entered the church.
Moreno began shooting before being confronted by two off-duty officers — a Houston police officer and a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent, who returned fire, Finner said.
Finner said the shooter told officers after being shot there was a bomb, but a search found no explosives. The declaration of a bomb was also noted in the search warrant affidavit, which said the shooter had a “yellow color rope and substances consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices.”
Finner and other authorities at the scene praised the officers, who have not been identified, for taking down the shooter.
Moreno “had a long gun, and it could have been worse,” Finner said. “But they stepped up and did their job.”
It was unclear how the boy, who was taken to a Houston children’s hospital, was struck by gunfire.
When asked whether the boy was shot by one of the off-duty officers returning fire on the suspect, Finner said he did not want to speculate but added: “That suspect put that baby in danger.”
The gunfire startled worshippers.
Alan Guity, whose family is from Honduras, has been a member of the church since 1998. He said he heard gunshots while resting inside the church’s sanctuary as his mother was working as an usher.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom. And I yelled, ‘Mom!'” he said.
Guity, 35, said he ran to his mother and they both laid flat on the floor as the gunfire continued. They prayed and stayed on the floor for about five minutes until someone told them it was safe to leave the building. As he was led outside, Guity could see people were afraid and crying and looking for loved ones.
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.
Osteen is a leader of 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.
Gunfire has also scarred other Texas places of worship
The weekend shooting at Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston is not the first time gunfire has caused panic and tragedy at a Texas house of worship.
It also underscored the ease of bringing weapons into sanctuaries in a state with few limits on gun possession, as well as a growing effort by some churches to provide armed security, either through volunteers or paid off-duty officers.
Here is a look at shootings at other places of worship in Texas and the laws surrounding firearms:
2017: Sutherland Springs
In November 2017, a gunman killed 26 people, including eight children, and wounded 20 more at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. The gunman later died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after being shot and chased by two men who heard the gunfire at the church.
2019: White Settlement
In December 2019, a man pulled out a shotgun during a service at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement and killed two worshippers, before he was shot and killed by two congregants who were part of a volunteer security team.
1999: Fort Worth
In September 1999, a man shot and killed seven people and wounded seven others before taking his own life at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
Texas gun laws
Texas does not require a license to carry a handgun or a rifle, although state law sets a handgun minimum age requirement at 21. Texas has also been an “open carry” state, which allows people to carry their weapons in plain view, since 2015, and eliminated the handgun license requirement in 2021.
In the first regular legislative session after the Sutherland Springs massacre, Texas lawmakers in 2019 clarified state law to allow the carrying of weapons in houses of worship, unless specifically banned by a congregation with written and oral notice.
Texas law does not require churches to provide armed security, although they are allowed to have volunteer security teams or hire security from law enforcement or licensed guards.