A woman with a rifle was killed by two off-duty police officers – while a child was critically wounded – on Sunday at a megachurch in Houston, Texas, run by prominent evangelical Christian pastor Joel Osteen, the city’s police chief said.
Troy Finner said it was not clear whether the five-year-old boy was struck by the officers who returned fire after the woman, wearing a trenchcoat, entered Osteen’s Lakewood church with the boy shortly before 2pm and began shooting.
A 57-year-old man was also shot and wounded, the police chief said. The child was in critical condition at a children’s hospital while the man was stable at a different hospital with a hip wound.
Houston’s channel3now.com reported the woman entered the church claiming to have a bomb, but Finner said later that no explosives were found when her vehicle and backpack were searched.
A second adult – a man – carrying a rifle was later evading authorities in the vicinity of restaurants near the church, Channel 3 Now reported.
Finner said that after the woman began shooting, both off-duty officers “engaged” her and the woman was killed. He said that unfortunately “a five-year-old kid was hit”, although he released no immediate details on how the confrontation unfolded.
He praised the officers for quickly confronting the woman, adding: “She had a long gun, and it could have been a lot worse.”
The shooting happened between services at the megachurch, which is the third-largest in the US according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Osteen’s televised sermons reach about 100 countries.
It was not clear where Osteen was at the time. He joined police at a news conference afterwards and said the church was “devastated”, adding that the shooting could have been much worse if it had happened during the larger 11am service. He would pray for the victims and for 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.”
Initially, a post on Twitter/X from ’s Lakewood church said there was “an active situation involving shots fired” at the venue which seats nearly 17,000 congregants.
At 2.10pm, local sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his office had received reports of possible shots fired at or around the church. Deputies from the Harris county sheriff’s office who work extra security detail at the church were there, Gonzalez said.
About 15 minutes later, Gonzalez posted an update saying it was believed a shooter was down after being shot by one of his office’s deputies.
Witnesses told reporters they heard multiple shots fired as the church’s 2pm Spanish language service was set to begin.
One witness said to Houston’s ABC 13 news station that she heard shots being fired while in the choir room. “The whole church started praying and declaring Jesus’s name,” she said. “I was like: ‘This might be the last time I get to pray, that I get to glorify the name of Jesus, so I’m going to do this.’”
Christina Rodriguez, who was inside the church, told Houston television station KTRK that she “started screaming ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter’”. She and others ran to the back of a library inside the building, then stood in a stairway before they were told it was safe to leave.
Longtime church member Alan Guity, whose family is from Honduras, said he was resting inside the church’s sanctuary before the 2pm service as his mother was working as an usher when he heard gunshots.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom and I yelled, ‘Mom,’” he said.
The 35-year-old ran to his mother and they both lay flat on the floor and prayed as the gunfire continued. They remained there for about five minutes until someone told them it was safe to evacuate. Outside, Guity said, he and his mother tried to calm people down by worshipping and singing in Spanish: “Move in me, move in me. Touch my mind and my heart. Move within me, Holy Spirit.”
Guity was among the many congregation members who waited on Sunday evening to be allowed to return to their vehicles as police continued to search the building.
What appeared to be a video broadcast of the service circulated widely on social media, capturing sounds of gunfire and the program host’s stunned reaction.
The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, said in a statement: “Our hearts are with those [affected] by today’s tragic shooting and the entire Lakewood church community in Houston. Places of worship are sacred.”
Osteen’s Lakewood church resides in a complex that used to host games for the Houston Rockets pro basketball team. The building was previously known as the Summit and then the Compaq Center.
A total of about 45,000 people attend Lakewood’s various services each week.
The Associated Press contributed reporting