Details of Sunday shooting at Osteen’s church emerge

- Christophe­r Cann, Dinah Voyles Pulver and Cybele Mayes-Osterman

Texas police on Monday identified the alleged shooter killed by police at Joel Osteen’s megachurch as 36-yearold Genesse Moreno and said a 7-yearold boy shot injured in the shooting is the Moreno’s biological son.

At approximat­ely 1:53 p.m. Sunday, Moreno, carrying an AR-15 rifle, pushed past a security guard and walked into a hallway at Lakewood Church with the boy, the Houston Police Department said during a Monday news conference.

Over the next 12 minutes, Moreno opened fire in the hallway, exchanged gunfire with two off-duty officers who were providing security at the church and was fatally injured, said Houston Police Department Cmdr. Chris Hassig.

Multiple rounds were fired, said Houston Police Chief Troy Finner. The boy was injured by a single shot to the head, police said, adding they do not yet know who fired the shot that hit the boy.

Moreno was confirmed dead at 2:07 p.m., Hassig said. The boy was taken to Texas Children’s Hospital where he was in critical condition.

A 57-year-old man who was shot in the leg was released from the hospital, police said.

The AR-15 Moreno carried had a sticker reading “Palestine” on the buttstock, Hassig said. Moreno, who wore a trench coat and a backpack, also carried a .22 caliber rifle. Police believe Moreno legally purchased the AR-15 in December.

Authoritie­s have not released a motive for the shooting. Hassig said Moreno had a “mental health history” documented by the department and family members and added that they had uncovered “antisemiti­c writings” linked to Moreno. Authoritie­s also learned of a “familial dispute” between Moreno and an ex-husband and some members of his family, who police said are Jewish.

Moreno used other “aliases,” including Jeffrey Escalante, Hassig said.

Moreno has arrests dating back to 2005, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety criminal history search.

Moreno was arrested in April 2022 on a charge of unlawfully carrying a weapon, according to the Fort Bend County Court website. Moreno pleaded guilty to the misdemeano­r in October of the same year.

In 2010, Moreno was arrested on charges of forgery, marijuana possession and evading arrest, court records say. A year earlier, Moreno was accused of assaulting a public servant and later pleaded guilty to a lesser assault charge, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Moreno, who is from El Salvador, worked in real estate, according to a LinkedIn page.

Shots fired just before service

The gunfire rang out just before a Spanish-language service was set to start at the 16,000-seat venue, which formerly served as a sports arena. Videos from inside the building showed a frenzy, with many churchgoer­s running for the exits while others took cover beneath their seats.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Finner said at a Sunday news conference.

The Houston Police Department’s bomb squad searched Moreno’s vehicle and backpack and found no explosives, despite Moreno claiming to have a bomb.

Witnesses reported seeing Moreno spray “some type of substance” on the ground before opening fire but Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said “We have not found anything that is of concern to our community or to this location.”

Both off-duty officers have been placed on paid administra­tive duty pending the outcome internal investigat­ions, Finner said.

One officer, Agent Adrian Herrera, 38, has four years of experience with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The other, 28-year-old Christophe­r Moreno, has been with the Houston Police Department for two years.

‘We’re going to pray’

Osteen, one of the highest profile pastors in the country who presides over services attended by tens of thousands, said the shooting has left him “in a fog.” Services at the church are 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.

“We’ve been here 65 years and to have somebody shooting in your church?” Osteen said at a news briefing with police. “We don’t understand why this happened. We’re going to pray for that… boy, and pray for the lady that was deceased and her family and all, and the other gentleman.”

 ?? KAREN WARREN/HOUSTON CHRONICLE VIA AP ?? Houston Police officers watch over displaced churchgoer­s outside Lakewood Church on Sunday in Houston, after a reported shooting during a Spanish church service.
KAREN WARREN/HOUSTON CHRONICLE VIA AP Houston Police officers watch over displaced churchgoer­s outside Lakewood Church on Sunday in Houston, after a reported shooting during a Spanish church service.

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