Houston: Two off-duty law enforcement officers in Houston took down a woman who opened fire on Sunday at Lakewood Church, one of the largest evangelical churches in the US led by televangelist Joel Osteen, police said.
A woman in her early 30s entered the megachurch shortly before 2pm local time (2000 GMT), armed with a long rifle and accompanied by a child around 5 years old, and began firing, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner told reporters on Sunday.
Two off-duty officers, one a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent and the other a Houston police officer, killed the shooter before she could kill anyone inside the church, which was preparing to host a Spanish-language service, Finner said.
Two people were injured, including the child who was with the shooter, Finner said. Officials said they were working to understand the child’s relation to the shooter and the shooter’s motive. Finner said he was not sure yet who shot the child in the crossfire.
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 US, 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.
The child was taken to Texas Children’s Hospital and was in critical condition, officials said. A man in his fifties sustained a non-critical leg injury and was also being treated at a local hospital.
“She had a long gun, and it could have been a lot worse,” Finner said.
The woman had threatened that she had a bomb, prompting authorities to search her backpack and vehicle, Finner said.
They found no explosives.
“When I entered the sanctuary I saw people running and saying: they are shooting, they are shooting, and we could hear gunshots,” one witness told local television station KHOU.
“We tried to open some doors in the hallway but they were locked. Some people went out to get to their cars, but others like me did not know where to go.”
A church volunteer hid them in the bathroom, piling furniture up against the doors and warning them not to move, she said.
“There were children on the third and fourth floors, the parents were worried about the children. We put things in God’s hands,” she added.
The majority of mass shootings in the US are carried out by men, making the apparent Houston attempt a rare case.
The US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), which studies all forms of targeted violence including mass casualty attacks, found in a 2023 report that 96% of mass attackers from 2016-2020 were male.
“Our hearts are with those impacted by today’s tragic shooting and the entire Lakewood Church community in Houston,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement.
Lakewood Church, which seats some 16,000 people, is led by Osteen and his wife and co-pastor Victoria Osteen.
Joel Osteen is one of the wealthiest and most popular pastors and prosperity gospel preachers in the United States.
According to the church’s website, Osteen’s media broadcasts, podcasts and radio programming reach millions of US households and audiences worldwide.
“We don’t understand why these things happen, but God’s in control,” Osteen told reporters on Sunday.
“We’re going to stay strong. We’re going to continue to move forward.”
The Houston church, located in the former sports arena for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association, accommodates over 40,000 worshipers over a weekend.