(CNN) — Investigators are still trying to determine what motivated a 36-year-old mother to open fire with a semi-automatic rifle in a popular Houston megachurch Sunday in an incident that left two people injured, including her 7-year-old son, before she was killed by law enforcement.
The shooter, identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, confronted a security guard Sunday outside the Lakewood Church, where well-known televangelist and pastor Joel Osteen preaches, shortly before 2 p.m. Investigators believe she may have revealed a weapon to the guard, who was unarmed, and forced her way in, according to Houston Police Chief Troy Finner.
Wearing a trench coat and backpack, she entered the converted sports arena between church services and opened fire in a hallway with an AR-platform rifle, Christopher Hassig, commander of the Houston police homicide division, said in a Monday news conference. One federal law enforcement source told CNN she fired around 30 bullets.
Two off-duty officers were at the church: 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 fatally hit, the police chief said.
Moreno’s son, who was shot in the head during the ordeal, is in critical condition at a hospital, Finner said. It’s unclear who fired the shot that wounded the child and CNN has reached out to police for more information.
A 57-year-old man who was also shot in the leg has been released from a medical facility, Finner said.
It remains unclear what led up to the shooting and what motivated Moreno, who has a lengthy criminal history and had been going through a bitter divorce. Investigators say they are attempting to unravel whether the incident was politically motivated or carried out by a mentally disturbed individual, according to a federal law enforcement source.
Special Agent in Charge Douglas Williams of the FBI’s Houston office told reporters Monday, “We’re in the infancy stages of this. I completely understand, we wanna know the motive, how she got the weapon, why she did this,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
The shooting is just the latest instance of gun violence disrupting American life at places once considered safe. This one was at a place of worship. Others have been at schools, grocery stores, outlet malls, hospitals, college campuses and house parties.
Police say shooter had history of mental health issues and had anti-semitic writings
Hours after the shooting, authorities searched Moreno’s home in Conroe – about 50 miles north of Lakewood Church, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Monday.
According to a search warrant obtained by CNN, investigators said the shooter claimed at the scene to have a bomb but had yellow rope similar to a detonation cord and “substances consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices.”
CNN has reached out to the Houston Fire Department for further information.
The shooter used an AR-15 with a “Palestine” sticker on it during the attack, which she legally purchased in December, police said. She also had a .22 caliber weapon in her bag that was not used, according to a federal law enforcement source.
CNN law enforcement analyst John Miller said Monday that authorities have a lot of work to do before any motive is clear.
“That’s why federal authorities were executing search warrants,” he said, noting they are “looking for computers, any written documents, thumb drives, social media, online. They’re really peeling back through the identity of this person.”
Information from Moreno’s social media accounts and local authorities paints a portrait of a single mother with a history of mental health challenges going through the ups and downs of trying to turn her life around and launch a business.
During Monday’s news conference, Hassig said the shooter used multiple aliases, including both male and female names. Moreno was put under an order for emotional detention in 2016 and she has a mental health history documented by Houston police, Hassig said.
Records from the Texas Department of Public Safety show Moreno had a string of arrests for minor offenses over the last two decades, including illegal possession of a weapon. But in her 30s, she described herself on social media as the founder of a real-estate and financial services firm. By her own account on social media pages, she is involved in sales of everything from new condos to shopping malls.
A social media post in March 2020 shows a screenshot of a form letter from Lakewood Church thanking Moreno for her donation. The police chief was asked Monday whether the shooter had a connection to the church and he said it was under investigation.
A CNN review showed the story of a bitter custody battle between Moreno and representatives for her ex-spouse’s family played out on her social media accounts. In 2022, when she had her divorce proceeding transferred to county court, according to an attorney who represented her, Moreno was also arrested on a weapons charge, a misdemeanor, which was cleared with two days’ time served in the Fort Bend County Jail.
According to police, there was some sort of family dispute between the shooter and her ex-husband and ex-husband’s family, some of whom are Jewish.
“This might possibly be where all this stems from,” Hassig added. He said police also found antisemitic writings connected with the shooter.
Attorney William Capasso said he represented Moreno in 2021-2022 and told CNN Genesse Ivone Moreno went by the name Jeffrey Moreno Carranza at the time.
Capasso said he later withdrew as her attorney and she represented herself in divorce proceedings.
The shooter’s complicated history adds to the uncertainty around establishing a motive and has created a “conundrum” for authorities determining whether this shooting was done out of hate or a mental-health crisis, Miller said.
Woman says she ran from shooting and hid in a room with others
With a background in television production, Osteen took over his father’s church in 1999 and built a huge following. His services draw 45,000 attendees to the Houston area church weekly, in addition to people around the nation who tune in for online and television sermons, according to his website.
“We’re devastated,” Osteen said Sunday. “We’ve been here 65 years and to have somebody shooting at your church…”
A woman who was inside the church at the time of the shooting told CNN affiliate KHOU that Osteen was greeting people after the end of the service and she was among the last 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 bangs and saw people screaming and running. She ran into a room and squeezed inside with 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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