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Public safety incident Event icon
Event title

United States - A woman walked into a Houston megachurch with a child and began shooting. Here’s what we know

Event category

Social incident - Public safety incident

Severity

Low

Event date (UTC)

2024-02-12 08:33:32

Last update (UTC)

2024-02-12 08:33:32

Latitude

29.730323

Longitude

-95.4346

Area range

Local event

Address/Affected area(s)

Lakewood Church, Houston, Harris County, Texas

Authorities are probing a Sunday afternoon shooting at pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church – roughly 6 miles from downtown Houston – in which they said a woman walked in accompanied by a young child and began firing before she was killed by law enforcement. The woman, estimated to be between 30 and 35 years old, entered the megachurch shortly before 2 p.m. dressed in a trench coat and armed with a long gun and a backpack, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said in a Sunday afternoon news conference. The young child was hit during the shooting and is in the hospital in critical condition, the police chief said. Police have not shared details about a possible motive in the shooting or said what the woman’s relationship to the child who accompanied her is. Another man was also injured. The shooting is just the latest instance of gun violence disrupting American life at a place once thought as safe: This one was at a place of worship. Others have been at schools, grocery stores, outlet malls, hospitals, college campuses and house parties. Here’s what we know.

2 off-duty law enforcement officers confronted the shooter
The woman entered the church accompanied by a child who Finner estimated to be between “4 to 5 years old.” “Once she entered, at some point she began to fire,” the chief said. 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. The two officers engaged the shooter and she was struck, the police chief said. She died at the scene, Finner said. The child was also hit and was taken to the hospital in critical condition, but it’s unclear who fired the shot that injured the child. CNN has reached out to police for more information. “I want to commend those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse,” Finner said. “But they stepped up and they did their job, and I want to thank them for that.” A man was also shot in the leg and sought treatment at a local hospital, Finner said. The man was in stable condition, authorities said. Both officers who engaged with the shooter will be placed on administrative duty pending the investigation, as is protocol with officer-involved shootings, Finner said. “It’s traumatic not only for our community but it’s certainly traumatic for the officers who had to take a life and we worry about their mental health as well, so our prayers are with them,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said in Sunday’s news conference.

Woman also threatened a bomb
The shooter also threatened that she had a bomb, but authorities searched her vehicle and backpack and found no explosives, the Houston police chief said. She was also spraying “some type of substance on the ground,” Finner said, but he did not share further details. Peña said fire authorities were on scene and were going to “take our time to ensure that any issue, any risk that we see is properly vetted.” “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. CNN has reached out to the Houston Fire Department for further information. Authorities will conduct a methodical search of the megachurch building – located in what used to be a sports arena – but do not believe there is any further danger to the public, the police chief said. The shooting appeared to be an isolated incident, he added. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he has been in contact with local and state officials and offered “the full support and resources” of the state to help the community. “Join Cecilia and me in praying for his community during this difficult time and for the brave men and women in blue who acted quickly to respond to this tragedy,” Abbott added.

Witness describes ‘erratic’ sound of shots and screaming
The shooting unfolded while the church was “in between services” and preparing to go into a Spanish service, Osteen, the pastor, said in Sunday’s news conference. “We’re devastated,” he said. “We’ve been here 65 years and to have somebody shooting at your church…” Osteen later added, “I can only imagine if it would have happened during the 11 o’clock service.” A woman who was inside the church at the time of the shooting told CNN affiliate KHOU Osteen was greeting everybody after the end of the service and she was among the last people to meet him. Soon after, she told the news station she heard repeated bangs, almost like “mechanical sounds.” “It almost sounded like folding tables were being dismantled and dropped to the floor,” she said. “But they were erratic.”

Then, the woman said she heard another set of gunshots and saw people screaming and running. She ran into a room and squeezed inside with multiple other people, including a child. The group put two large wooden slats on the door to keep it from opening, and then, they began to pray. “We were thankful,” she said. “We could have been a casualty. We could have been shot.”

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