Child among 2 hurt in shooting at Texas megachurch of celebrity pastor Joel Osteen
Child brought to church by the shooter, who was killed by officers working security
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 and sending worshippers rushing out of the building between busy Sunday services, authorities said.
The woman, who entered the Houston church shortly before 2 p.m. local time, was accompanied by a five-year-old boy, who was shot and taken to hospital in critical condition.
Details of the confrontation remain unclear in the hours after the tragedy, and police have not released the woman's identity or a possible motive. It's also unknown what relationship, if any, the woman had to the boy, and who actually shot him and the man.
Houston police Chief Troy Finner said it was not clear whether the young child was struck by the off-duty officers who returned fire.
A 57-year-old man was shot and wounded in the hip but is stable, police said.
Finner said that after the woman began shooting, both officers "engaged" and the woman was killed. He said that "a five-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 joined police at a news conference 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 said he would pray for the victims, 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. "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 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."
Despite the chaos, Finner said the tragedy "could have been a lot worse" if the two officers had not "engaged" the woman when she opened fire. They had been working security at the church on Sunday, and Finner praised them for their quick actions.
The officers work for the Houston Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, respectively. Both have been placed on protocol-mandated administrative duty.
After she was shot, the woman told police that she had a bomb, but authorities said no explosives were found when her vehicle and backpack were searched. First responders continued to search the megachurch for hours afterwards.