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What to know about a shooting at Joel Osteen's megachurch

What to know about a shooting at Joel Osteen's megachurch

HOUSTON (AP) — A shooter's motive for opening fire in celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch remained unclear Monday as authorities searched the suspect's home in suburban Houston and identified the weapon used in the attack as an AR-style rifle.

The house in Conroe, Texas, is more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Lakewood Church, where Sunday's shooting in between busy services sent worshippers scrambling to find safety.

The shooter was identified as 36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno, according to police. Police say Moreno was shot and killed by two off-duty officers working security at the church, one of the largest megachurches in the U.S.

Two other people were shot and wounded, including the shooter's young son, who entered the church with Moreno.

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 watch the Super Bowl later.

Houston police Chief Troy Finner said Moreno entered the church wearing a trenchcoat and backpack and armed with a long rifle. Moreno 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.

“They held their ground in the face of rifle fire at point blank range,” said Kevin Lilly, chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Before being shot and killed, the suspect told officers that they had a bomb and were carrying “a yellow in color rope and substances consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices, which appeared to be a detonation cord,” according to the search warrant affidavit. Authorities said Monday that no explosives or hazardous material were found at the scene.

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

Moreno’s son, whom authorities described as a 7-year-old, was shot in the head and remained in critical condition Monday. The boy was initially described Sunday as a 5-year-old.

It remained unclear how the boy, who was taken to a Houston children's hospital, was struck by gunfire. Finner said he did not want to speculate but added: "That suspect put that baby in danger.”

Authorities described the other victim as a man in his 50s who was wounded in his hip.

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE SHOOTER?

Authorities said Moreno had a history of mental illness, including being placed under emergency detention in 2016, but provided no other details.

Houston Police Commander Chris Hassig said Moreno sometimes used both male and female aliases, but he said investigators determined through interviews and past police reports that Moreno identified as female. Authorities said investigators were looking into a dispute involving Moreno and the family of Moreno’s ex-husband.

Police said Moreno legally purchased in December the AR-15 style rifle that was used in the shooting. Moreno was also carrying a .22-caliber rifle.

Investigators also found antisemitic writings by the shooter, and Hassig noted Moreno’s rifle had a “Palestine” sticker on the buttstock. He described Moreno as a “lone wolf” who was not acting as any part of a larger group.

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 lay 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 crying and looking for loved ones.

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.

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Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber in Texas contributed to this report.

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