Suspect legally purchased rifle used in Lakewood Church shooting, HPD says

It's still unclear why the woman decided to walk inside Lakewood Church on Sunday and open fire. The investigation is ongoing.

Monday, February 12, 2024
Suspect legally purchased rifle used in Lakewood Church shooting: HPD
Genesse Ivonne Moreno has been identified as the woman accused of opening fire at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston on Sunday, per a warrant.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The person accused of firing rounds at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church has been identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, a 36-year-old Hispanic woman, according to a search warrant obtained by ABC13.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire and police Chief Troy Finner gave an update on the investigation almost exactly 24 hours after the shooting.

Overnight, agents with the FBI, Texas Rangers, and ATF raided a Conroe home believed to be connected to Moreno.

Authorities also found anti-Semitic writings but did not provide further details. Police added that they believe there was a dispute with her ex-husband's family, some of whom are Jewish but are not members of Lakewood Church.

The shooting has brought up concerns about safety at religious institutions. Finner said patrols will be increased at places of worship across the City of Houston.

The series of events all unfolded just before a Spanish-speaking service, as thousands of people were packed inside the megachurch.

The Houston Police Department said Moreno was wearing a trench coat when she got out of her white vehicle and removed her biological 7-year-old son and a bag from the backseat at 1:53 p.m. Sunday.

Investigators said she pointed a gun at a security officer, forcing her way in, and immediately began firing several shots using an AR-15.

At 1:55 p.m., Moreno was killed during a gun battle with officers while her son was by her side and also shot. At least 12 shots were reportedly fired.

Houston police initially reported that the child was 5 years old.

According to HPD, the shootout between officers and Moreno lasted less than 12 minutes, but Finner added that authorities are expected to provide a more specific timeline later and did not specify whose bullet struck the child.

As Moreno went down, officers reported that she threatened to have a bomb, prompting officers with the bomb squad to search her car and backpack, though no explosives were found.

Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña said of the investigation that hazardous materials tests were conducted, and there were no risks of exposure to any chemicals during the shooting at the church.

According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, one of its members was among the multiple commissioned peace officers who responded to the shooting.

TABC said Monday that Agent Adrian Herrera was working off-duty as a security officer at the church when Moreno opened fire. Herrera and one off-duty HPD officer engaged Moreno and "neutralized the threat," the agency said.

Per agency policy, Herrera is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal TABC investigation into the shooting.

Herrera has been with the agency for approximately five years.

Finner said in an update on Monday afternoon that the 7-year-old boy is fighting for his life, and a 57-year-old man who was shot in the leg has been released from the hospital.

The FBI is working with HPD on the investigation, adding that it's still too early to determine a motive.

If you know anything about this shooting, authorities urge you to contact the Houston Police Department at (713) 308-3600.

Inside Lakewood Church when chaos erupted

The megachurch in Houston is among the largest congregations in the United States, averaging about 45,000 attendees per week.

Panic spread quickly as people inside the church started running and trying to get to safety. Some managed to get outside the building, but could not leave because officers locked down several blocks surrounding the church.

It's still unclear why the woman decided to walk inside Lakewood Church on Sunday and open fire. The investigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, inside the building, others did what they could to try to hide.

Some people were stuck inside the church for hours -- waiting for the police to give an all-clear. During the chaos, some parents were separated from their children, who were inside the church daycare.

ABC13 reporter Charly Edsitty happened to be in the area running errands when the shooting happened. She spoke to a father and son who were leaving Lakewood as the shots were fired.

"I saw this lady running. She almost fell down the stairs. I told her, 'Hey, you dropped something.' She said something in Spanish that I couldn't understand. And then I saw someone else running down the steps. That's when I heard two gunshots," the father said. "I was going towards my family, and I heard another gunshot coming closer. So I was like, 'I can't go up there now.'"

The witness was separated from other family members - who were not hurt - and had to wait until loved ones were able to leave the building.

More about the Lakewood Church shooting suspect

According to Whitmire, detectives are investigating the role Moreno's mental health played in the shooting.

ABC13 looked into Moreno's criminal history, which dates back to 2005, with the latest case coming during the summer of 2022 in Fort Bend County.

  • 10/24/2005 - Harris County: Failure to stop and give information, sentenced to 20 days in Harris County Jail
  • 8/6/2009 - Harris County: Assault - bodily injury, sentenced to 180 days in Harris County Jail for kicking a detention officer
  • 5/28/2010 - Harris County: Forgery, sentenced to two days in Harris County Jail for trying to use a counterfeit $100 bill
  • 11/3/2010 - Harris County: Theft, sentenced to 30 days in Harris County Jail for stealing hats and makeup
  • 12/5/2010 - Harris County: Evading, sentenced to 75 days in Harris County Jail
  • 6/15/2022 - Fort Bend County: Unlawful carrying of a weapon, still an active case

Finner said her family didn't attend services at Lakewood and stressed that Moreno acted alone.

Authorities also said that there have been discrepancies about Moreno, specifically with her name, as she has used multiple aliases, including Jeffrey Escalante-Moreno. However, authorities are going by her female name based on her pronouns of she/her.

Authorities are looking into how Moreno was able to obtain weapons, given her mental health history.

Officials said they recovered two weapons, including an AR-15 and a .22 caliber rifle in a bag.

ABC News sources briefed on preliminary information that a pro-Palestinian message was written on the gun used by Moreno, but during Monday's press conference with Houston police, authorities said a sticker on one of the weapons only read "Palestine."

The Houston Police Department said the AR-15 used in the shooting was legally purchased in December.

Before permitless carry was signed into law, Texans generally needed to be licensed to carry handguns openly or concealed. Applicants had to submit fingerprints, complete four to six hours of in-person training, and pass a written exam and a shooting proficiency test. As far as rifles go, Texas does not require a license to openly carry one in public.

Texas is coming up on two years since permitless carry passed in the State Legislature, which has allowed Texans to carry handguns without a license since September 2021.

"We don't understand why these things happen, but we know that God is in control. We're going to pray for that little 5-year-old boy and pray for the lady that was deceased and her family and all, and the other gentleman," Pastor Joel Osteen said. "Believe that we're going to stay strong, and we're going to continue to move forward."

Lakewood says their community is devastated over what happened. They are scheduled to hold their usual Wednesday service online, with the next in-person service set for next Sunday.

Lakewood Church released the following message to members on Monday:

"Dear Beloved Lakewood Church & Iglesia Family,

We write to you with a heavy heart, deeply saddened by the events that unfolded within our church and community yesterday. We are grieving with you over this tragedy. May the healing hands of God even now begin to touch the lives of everyone involved and provide comfort for those in need.

Yet, even in the midst of such an act of darkness, I am inspired by the strength and resilience of our church family and those serving in our church. I also want to express my profound gratitude for the swift response of our security and law enforcement teams. Their courage and dedication undoubtedly prevented further harm and provided immediate security to our church community. Let us keep them in our prayers.

As we approach the days ahead, let us hold fast to our faith. Remember that evil may cast a temporary shadow but it will never extinguish the light of God's amazing love. In moments of uncertainty and pain, it is our faith that sustains us, guiding us and illuminating the path toward healing and hope.

Together, as a united church family, God will cause us to rise. Let us stand firm in our commitment to love and support one another, offering comfort and solace to those who are hurting. In times like these, our faith is not merely tested; it is strengthened. It is during these moments that we draw closer to God, finding refuge in His unwavering presence and promise of redemption.

While we may not always understand the reasons behind such senseless acts of violence, we can find comfort in knowing that God remains in control and His love knows no bounds. Let us continue to lift our voices in prayer, seeking His healing touch and divine peace for all those affected. We are fervently praying for the two who were wounded, believing in complete recovery.

Together, we will rise with faith and resilience. May the love of God surround us, and His peace dwell within our hearts as we walk forward with a message of hope.

Praying for you,

Joel and Victoria Osteen
Danilo and Gloriana Montero
Lakewood Church"

ORIGINAL REPORT: Suspect killed, 2 injured in shooting incident at Lakewood Church, police say

An investigation is underway after a deadly shooting was reported at Lakewood Church near the Southwest Freeway in Houston, Texas.