Police identify woman who opened fire in Houston megachurch. On a Sundayafternoon, a tragic incident unfolded at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Churchnear Houston, Texas. A woman, later identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36, entered the churchwith a long gun and her 7-year-old son.
Wearing a trench coat and backpack, she opened fire, injuring her child and another man, later identified as Tom George Thomas. Law enforcement officers responded swiftly, and in self-defense, they fatally shot Moreno when she aimed her weapon at them.
The child remains in critical condition in the hospital, and the circumstances of his injury are still under investigation. The injured man, Thomas, was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg and has since been released from the hospital. Authorities have not disclosed a motive for the shooting as they continue their investigation.
The shooting occurred during a transition period between services as the church was preparing to start a Spanish service, stated Osteen during Sunday's press briefing.
"I can only imagine if it would have happened during the 11 o'clock service," he said.
The sound of gunfire and screams abruptly cut off a host's Spanish announcements in video from a church feed. This shooting is yet another tragic example of gun violence disturbing the fabric of American lifein locations that were once regarded as safe havens. From schools and grocery stores to outlet malls, hospitals, collegecampuses, and even house parties, these incidents have left a lasting impact on communities across the nation. Here's what we understand so far.
Along with her son, Moreno entered the church, and the chief claims that she immediately started firing. A federal law enforcement source claimed that she discharged approximately 30 rounds.
During the incident, two off-duty officers were present: a 28-year-old Houston Police Department officer and a 38-year-old agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, both with less than five years of service. According to the police chief, these officers engaged the shooter, striking her as a result.
The shooter utilized an AR-15 rifle adorned with the phrase "Free Palestine," according to another federal law enforcement source. Investigators are currently probing whether she was politically motivated or dealing with mental health issues, as per the source.
"I want to commend those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse," Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said. "But they stepped up and they did their job, and I want to thank them for that."
Finner stated that both officers who confronted the shooter will be placed on administrative duty pending the investigation, following the standard protocol for officer-involved shootings.
"It's traumatic not only for our community but it's certainly traumatic for the officers who had to take a lifeand we worry about their mental health as well, so our prayers are with them," Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said in Sunday’s newsconference.
Information gathered from Moreno's social media accounts and local authorities portrays a single mother navigating the highs and lows of attempting to improve her life and establish a business.
Records from the Texas Department of Public Safety reveal a historyof minor offenses spanning two decades for Moreno, including possession of marijuana, assault, illegal possession of a weapon, resisting arrest, and a forgery charge. However, in her thirties, she presents herself on social media as the founder of a real estate and financial services firm. According to her posts, she is involved in sales ranging from new condos to shopping malls.
In March 2020, a social media post displayed a screenshot of a form letter from Lakewood Church expressing gratitude to Moreno for her donation. A review highlights a contentious custody battle between Moreno and representatives of her ex-spouse's family, documented on her social media accounts. In 2022, during her divorce proceedings transferred to county court, an attorney who represented her mentioned Moreno's arrest on a weapons charge, a misdemeanor that was resolved with two days served in Fort Bend County Jail.
Attorney William Capasso stated that he represented Moreno from 2021 to 2022 and disclosed that Genesse Ivone Moreno used the name Jeffrey Moreno Carranza during that period. Capasso later withdrew as her attorney, and Moreno represented herself in the divorce proceedings.
I am deeply saddened to learn that Ms. Moreno may be responsible for the tragic events that occurred at the Lakewood Church and pray for the recovery of [the child] and for all of the people that were affected by this terrible tragedy.- Attorney William Capasso
Police vehicles parked in front of the Lakewood church
Moreno reportedly made threats claiming she possessed a bomb; however, authorities conducted searches of her vehicle and backpack and found no explosives, as stated by the Houston police chief.
Additionally, Finner mentioned that Moreno was spraying "some type of substance on the ground," although he did not provide further specifics. Peña noted that fire authorities were present and would carefully assess any potential risks to ensure proper handling.
"Right now, I can safely say that we have not found anything that is of concern to our community or to this location, but we're going to take our time to ensure that we look at every aspect," the fire chief added.
The search warrant for Moreno's home revealed the presence of yellow rope resembling a detonation cord and "substances consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices."
Authorities are in the process of conducting a thorough search of the church building, situated in a former sports arena, and they do not believe there is any ongoing danger to the public, stated the police chief on Sunday. He emphasized that the shooting appeared to be an isolated incident.
Following the shooting, law enforcement officials searched Moreno's residence in Conroe, Texas, as confirmed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on Monday. Melissa Garcia, a spokesperson for ATF-Houston Division, indicated that ATF was among the agencies involved in the search. Moreno's home is located approximately 50 minutes north of Lakewood Church.
The search warrant authorizes the search for various items in the home, including ammunition, firearms, explosives, cell phones, and computers. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been in communication with local and state officials, offering the full support and resourcesof the state to assist the affected community. "Join Cecilia and me in praying for his community during this difficult time and for the brave menand women in blue who acted quickly to respond to this tragedy," Abbott added. With a background in television production, Osteen assumed leadership of his father's church in 1999, quickly amassing a substantial following. Weekly, his services attract 45,000 attendees at the church, with countless others nationwide tuning in for his online and televised sermons, as per his website.
"We're devastated," Osteen said. "We've been here 65 years and to have somebody shooting at your church."
A woman who was inside the church at the time of the shooting said that Osteen was greeting people after the service's conclusion, and she was among the last to meet him. Shortly afterward, she informed the news station that she heard repeated bangs, resembling "mechanical sounds."
"It almost sounded like folding tables were being dismantled and dropped to the floor," she said. "But they were erratic."
Later, the woman recounted hearing another round of gunshots and witnessing people screaming and fleeing. She sought refuge in a room, squeezing in with several others, including a child. They barricaded the door with two large wooden slats to prevent it from opening and then commenced praying.
"We were thankful," she said. "We could have been a casualty. We could have been shot."