HOUSTON, Feb 12: A 5-year-old child and a man were injured and a woman was killed after she opened fire inside a church here in the US state of Texas, police said.
The violence erupted at pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston on Sunday where a 2 p.m. Spanish service was set to begin.
Two off-duty law enforcement officers — a Houston police officer and an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission — engaged and struck the woman who entered the massive church with the boy who was later hurt in the shootout.
The woman, roughly 30-35 years old, was wearing a trench coat and a backpack and was armed with a long rifle, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said.
Lakewood Church — a building with a 16,000-person capacity that was previously an arena for the NBA’s Houston Rockets — has grown tremendously over the past 25 years since Joel Osteen took over after his father died in 1999 and introduced an upbeat style of Christian televangelism that has captured a following of millions.
“Unfortunately a 5-year-old kid was hit and is in critical condition at our local hospital,” Finner said.
It was unclear what the child’s relationship to the shooter was, he said.
A 57-year-old man – who authorities believe was not connected to the incident – was shot in the leg and is seeking treatment at a hospital, Finner said.
“I want to commend those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse,” Finner said.
An investigation will take place into the shooting and both law enforcement officers will be placed on administrative leave while the probe is ongoing.
The woman had also threatened she “had a bomb”, but authorities searched her vehicle and a backpack she was wearing and found no explosives, Finner said.
“She was also spraying some type of substance on the ground,” the chief added.
The woman’s identity has not yet been revealed.
Speaking during the news conference, Osteen, the pastor, said the shooting took place “in between services”, noting the timing of the incident likely helped prevent further injuries and damage.
“I can only imagine if it would have happened during the 11 o’clock service,” he said.
“So, you know, if there’s anything good of it … (it’s) that she didn’t get in there and do a whole lot worse damage,” Osteen said of the shooter.
Houston Mayor John Whitmire lamented that the violence took place while people were preparing to practise their faith and others looked forward to the Super Bowl encounter between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
“We find ourselves gathered here to respond to this tragedy,” he said.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said: “Our hearts are with those impacted by today’s tragic shooting and the entire Lakewood Church community in Houston. Places of worship are sacred.”
The governor added he has been in contact with local and state officials to “help this community and help bring swift justice to the criminal who committed this heinous act”.
A Lakewood parishioner said he was inside the church waiting for the Spanish language service to start when he heard multiple shots fired.
One man said he heard 20 to 30 gunshots when he ran out of the megachurch with his three young daughters, ABC 13 News reported.
Authorities have not confirmed how many shots were fired.
The White House is tracking the shooting and working to obtain more information, a White House official said. (PTI)