HOUSTON (AP) — A woman’s motive for opening fire in celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch was unclear Monday, a day after the shooting sent worshippers rushing for safety in between busy services.
Police say two off-duty officers working security at Lakewood Church, one of the largest megachurches in the U.S., shot and killed the suspect. Two other people were also shot and wounded, including a 5-year-old boy who entered the church with the shooter and was taken to a hospital in critical condition.
Osteen said the violence could have been worse if the shooting had happened during the earlier and larger late Sunday morning service.
Here’s what to know about the shooting:
HOW DID THE SHOOTING UNFOLD?
The sound of gunshots inside the massive church, which was formerly the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, startled worshippers just before 2 p.m. Sunday, around the time many people were getting ready to later watch the Super Bowl.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner did not identify the suspect at a news conference Sunday while standing near Osteen. He described the shooter as a woman in her early to mid-30s, saying she entered the church wearing a trenchcoat and backpack and armed with a long rifle, though he did not specify the exact weapon.
Finner said the woman entered the church with the young boy but did not describe their relationship. The woman began shooting and was confronted by two off-duty officers, a Houston police officer and an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, who returned fire. Finner said the woman told officers after being shot there was a bomb but a search found no explosives.
He and other authorities at the scene praised the officers for taking down the shooter.
“She had a long gun, and it could have been worse,” Finner said. “But they stepped up and did their job.”
WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?
Authorities have not released the identities of anyone involved in the shooting.
It was unclear how the the young 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 female, that suspect, put that baby in danger. I’m going to put that blame on her.”
Authorities described the other victim as a man in his 50s who was wounded in his hip.
HOW DID WORSHIPPERS INSIDE REACT?
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. Guity said he and his mother 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.
Guity said he and his mother tried to calm people down by worshiping and singing in Spanish, “Move in me, move in me. Touch my mind and my heart. Move within me Holy Spirit.”
WHO IS JOEL OSTEEN?
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 Joel Osteen and 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 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.
Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber in Texas contributed to this report.