HOUSTON (AP) — A woman in a trenchcoat opened fire with a long gun inside celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Texas before being gunned down by two off-duty officers who confronted her, sending worshippers rushing out of the building between busy Sunday services, authorities said.
The woman entered the Houston church with a 5-year-old boy shortly before 2 p.m. and the child was shot and critically injured. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said it was not clear whether the young child was struck by the off-duty officers who returned fire. He said a 57-year-old man also was shot and wounded.
The child was in critical condition after being taken to a hospital. The man who was wounded in his hip was stable.
Finner said that after the woman began shooting, both officers “engaged” and the woman was killed. He said that unfortunately “a 5-year-old kid was hit" although he released no immediate details on how the confrontation unfolded.
But he added: “She had a long gun, and it could have been a lot worse."
The shooting happened between services at the megachurch that 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.
Osteen joined police at a news conference afterward and said the church is “devastated.” But he added that the shooting could have been much worse if it had happened during the larger 11 a.m. service. He added 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,” Osteen said after authorities spoke. “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.”
Witnesses told reporters that they heard multiple gunshots shortly before the church’s 2 p.m. Spanish language service was set to begin.
Christina Rodriguez, who was inside the church, told Houston television station KTRK that she “started screaming, ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter,’” and then she and others ran to the backside of a library inside the building, then stood in a stairway before they were told it was safe to leave.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a separate statement saying “our hearts are with those impacted by today’s tragic shooting and the entire Lakewood Church community in Houston. Places of worship are sacred.”
At least 20 police and fire trucks were near one of the church’s entrances Sunday afternoon, including the fire department’s hazardous materials truck. Finner said it was reported that the woman had a bomb, but no explosives were found when her vehicle and backpack were searched.
Worshippers could be seen leaving the building as authorities evacuated the church before the news conference. Officials announced a reunification center had been set up at a nearby gym for people to find their loved ones.
Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press