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.
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’s televised sermons reach about 100 countries.
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.”
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 in a search of her vehicle and backpack.
Worshippers could be seen leaving the building as authorities evacuated the church before the news conference. Officials announced a reunification centre had been set up at a nearby gym for people to find their loved ones.