Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, one of the largest and most watched on television church services, was the scene Sunday of an active shooting. Authorities say just before 2 p.m., as the church was between services and about to begin a Spanish-language service, a woman dressed in a trench coat and carrying a backpack entered the church with a rifle and a 5-year-old child in tow and began opening fire. Off-duty police officers working security at the church quickly engaged the woman, killing her before she could harm anybody.
Sadly, in the short firefight, the 5-year-old was hit and critically injured. A man in his 50s was also wounded, some reports said being hit in his leg, and received treatment. It is unclear at this time who fired the shots that wounded the man or the child.
Parishioners reportedly ran and barricaded themselves at the sounds of shots being fired when the woman, believed to be between 30 and 35 entered the church. She was seen spraying something as she entered, which led to police calling Hazmat units out to investigate, but whatever was sprayed was determined not to present a hazard.
The Texas Tribune further reports the following details:
The shooter threatened that she had a bomb, so officers searched her vehicle and backpack but did not recover any explosives, police said. They continued a search of the church, which seats more than 16,000 people, on Sunday afternoon. Officers also said the shooter was spraying an unidentifiable substance, prompting officers to call upon the Houston Fire Department and hazmat units. Fire Chief Samuel Peña said they found “nothing of concern.”
Law enforcement did not identify the shooter’s motive or her identity. She entered the church minutes before the start of the 2 p.m. Spanish-language service.
“It’s unfortunate that on the day we want to attend church and watch America’s No. 1 sports event, we find ourselves gathered here to respond to this tragedy,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said during the press conference. “We want Houstonians to know they are being protected by their first responders.”
Whitmire thanked first responders for their collaboration. Officers from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Houston Fire Department and Houston Police Department were on scene. The two off-duty agents who shot the shooter were from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Houston Police Department.
Lakewood Church is about 6 miles outside of downtown Houston in the former arena for the Houston Rockets. The nondenominational, evangelical Christian church attracts people from across the country both in person and online.
In a news conference following the shooting, a visibly shaken Joel Osteen, told reporters he was “in a fog” and “things could’ve been a lot worse,” thanking authorities for their quick response.
“Of course we’re devastated, we’ve been here 65 years and to have somebody shooting in your church. We don’t understand why these things happen, but we know God’s in control,” Osteen said. “We’re going to pray for that little five-year-old boy and pray for the lady who is deceased and her family and all and the other gentleman.”
“I can only imagine if it would’ve happened during the eleven o’clock service, we were in between services, going into the Spanish service, so, you know, if there’s anything good of it is she didn’t get in there and do a whole lot worse damage. So, we thank God for that.”
The Texas Tribune noted several other church shootings in the state in recent years:
Several mass shootings have occurred in U.S. houses of worship in recent years, including the November 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Twenty-six people were killed and 20 others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on parishioners in the rural town east of San Antonio.
In December 2019, a man shot and killed two people during a church service at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a suburb of Fort Worth. A church member shot and killed him in seconds. A Texas law passed in response to the Sutherland Springs shooting allows licensed handgun owners to carry those weapons in places of worship. The White Settlement church formed a volunteer security team in response to that law.
The Sutherland Springs shooting occurred just months before a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, which prompted (Gov. Greg) Abbott to host a series of discussions to identify solutions to gun violence. Lawmakers heard from statewide leaders, school officers and law enforcement, with some proposing universal background checks and policies to keep guns away from people who “pose an immediate danger.”
Lakewood Church is regularly attended by 45,000 people weekly making it the third largest church in the U.S., NBC News reported. They also noted Osteen’s “televised sermons reach about 100 countries.”
The church was founded in a converted feed store in 1959 by Osteen’s father. Since his death in 1999, Osteen has helped grow the church and its reach exponentially by introducing “an upbeat style of Christian televangelism that has captured a following of millions.”
The church website posted the following statement in response to the shooting:
Our community is devastated by today’s events and grateful for the swift actions of law enforcement. May the healing hands of God touch the lives of everyone involved and provide comfort during this difficult time.
In the face of such darkness, we must hold onto our faith and remember evil will not prevail. God will guide us through the darkest of times. Together, we will rise above this tragedy and stand firm in our commitment to love and support one another.
In times like these, our faith is tested, but it is also strengthened. We don’t always understand why things like this happen, but we know that God is in control.
Please join me in continued prayer for healing and peace.