February 26th, 2024

Boy critically injured in Texas megachurch shooting is son of suspect in attack, police say

By Juan Lozano, Acacia Coronado And Jim Vertuno, The Associated Press on February 12, 2024.

HOUSTON (AP) – 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 Moreno had a history of mental illness, including being placed under emergency detention in 2016. Investigators had not yet established the shooter’s motive.

Moreno used an AR-style rifle before being killed by off-duty officers working security at celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church.

Police said Moreno’s son remained in critical condition on Monday with a gunshot wound to the head. The boy was initially described on Sunday as a 5-year-old.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

HOUSTON (AP) – The shooter who opened fire at a Texas megachurch before they were killed by security officers over the weekend was carrying an AR-style rifle, according to search warrant documents released by a prosecutor’s office on Monday.

The shooter was identified as 36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno in an affidavit seeking a search warrant for a home in Conroe, about 40 miles (64.37 kilometers) north of Houston. The warrant affidavit was released by the Montgomery County district attorney’s office.

A motive for the attack that sent worshippers rushing for safety in between busy services at celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church on Sunday remains unclear.

The search warrant affidavit requested FBI assistance in retrieving any data from electronic devices found in the home.

Moreno was killed after pointing the weapon at the security officers, the affidavit said.

Authorities have said a 5-year-old boy who entered the church with Moreno, and a man in his 50s, were injured in the shooting. Authorities said the boy was in critical condition and his relationship to Moreno also remained unclear Monday. The injured man was shot in the hip, they said.

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.

After Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston in 2017, Osteen opened his church to those seeking shelter after social media critics slammed the televangelist for not offering to house people in need.

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This story corrects the spelling of Genesse Ivonne Moreno’s middle name. The shooter’s middle name is spelled Ivonne, not Ivonna.

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