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Lakewood Church shooting: Spotlight on Texas gun laws after Houston megachurch attack

A motive for the shooting at the Houston megachurch remains unknown

Andrea Cavallier,Io Dodds
Thursday 15 February 2024 21:29 GMT
Lakewood church shooter used rifle with ‘Palestine’ sticker, police say

The spotlight is on Texas gun laws after a woman with a history of mental illness and a criminal record was able to legally purchase a gun and walk into Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston.

Genesse Moreno, 36, opened fire at the church sparking a gunfight with two off-duty cops that left her son fighting for his life in hospital. He remains in critical condition.

In the days since, information has emerged about Moreno’s mental health and criminal history – raising questions around whether something could have been done to have prevented the shooting.

Police said she had legally purchased the AR-15 rifle in December 2023 — despite the fact that court records show that in 2022, she was arrested for a weapons misdemeanour charge.

Now all eyes are turning to Texas’ lax gun laws – particularly the state’s absence of red flag laws.

Red flag laws — which allow for police to intervene if someone shows signs that they are a danger to themselves or others. A court can take away their guns or prevent them from buying one.

The issue is, in Texas, there is no red flag law.


Who is Joel Osteen?

Joel Osteen regularly preaches to about 45,000 people a week in Lakewood Church – the scene of Sunday’s shooting – which is a former basketball arena and he’s known to millions more through his television sermons.

Osteen inherited his calling from his father and increased the size of the congregation almost five-fold.

His book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living Your Full Potential” sold nearly 3 million copies.

In the mid-2000s, Osteen was viewed by more people than any preacher in the United States, reaching 95 percent of all households, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Mr Osteen said that the shooting on Sunday had left him “kind of in a fog” but said his community will “stay strong”.

Joel Osteen responds to church shooting

“We don’t understand why these things happen, but we know God is in control,” Osteen said.

“We are going to pray for the little five-year-old boy and the lady that was deceased, her family, and the other gentlemen,” he added.

The pastor said that he could have only imagined what would have happened if the incident had happened during the 11am service, as at the time of the shooting, the church was changing over services.

“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,” Mr Osteen added in a statement later on.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 07:00

Lakewood Church used to be home to an NBA team – now it’s a crime scene

Lakewood Church is situated in the Compaq Centre, a venue so big it used to be the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

More than 45,000 weekly visitors attend the megachurch, which includes a 16,000-seat auditorium and reaches even more worshippers on international broadcasts.

What may entice many worshippers is also pastor Joel Osteen, a successful television producer-turned-religious leader after his father, John Osteen, also a famed pastor, unexpectedly died, leading to Joel taking over as senior pastor at Lakewood Church in 1999.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 09:00

When a church becomes a crime scene

One of America’s largest Christian churches became the scene of a crime when a woman entered armed with an AR-15 rifle – and her seven-year-old son – and began shooting.

The shooter who opened fire inside Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has been identified by police as Genesse Ivonne Moreno – a 36-year-old “lone wolf” who allegedly took her own son to the church before embarking on the shooting using an assault-style rifle with the word “Palestine” across it.

While the motive for the shooting remains unclear, investigators said that Moreno had a sticker which read “Palestine” on the butt stock of the rifle.

Here’s what we know:

What we know about the Lakewood Church shooting in Texas

One of America’s largest Christian churches became the scene of a crime when a woman entered armed with an AR-15 rifle – and her seven-year-old son – and began shooting. Amelia Neath and Andrea Cavallier report

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 12:00

What happened to the Lakewood Church victims?

The child who was injured in the incident is currently at the Texas Children’s Hospital where he remains in critical condition.

Police said the boy, who has not been named, is the biological son of Moreno.

But it remains unclear who shot the child.

Another victim, a 57-year-old man, was also shot in the hip and was also taken to hospital for treatment. He had been released by Monday afternoon.

Officials praised the “valour” and heroism of the two officers who shot the suspect dead, saying that more lives would have been lost if it weren’t for them.

“What happened yesterday was the personification of heroism and valor,” said Kevin Lilly, chairman of TABC, adding that the two off-duty officers “held ground” in the face of a rifle pointing at them at “point blank range”.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 14:00

Lakewood shooter ‘donated money to megachurch’ before shooting

Moreno reportedly donated money to the Texas megachurch years before she took her seven-year-old son to the religious institution and opened fire inside.

In March 2020, she posted on social media a screenshot of a letter from Lakewood Church thanking her for her donation.

Moreno’s social media accounts have since been taken down.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 16:05

Pastor Joel Osteen says services will resume on Sunday following shooting

Lakewood Church’s pastor Joel Osteen posted a video to social media encouraging churchgoers to return to the megachurch on Sunday following last week’s shooting.

“The Lord is our strength. Let’s come together this weekend at Lakewood for A Special Service of Healing, Prayer, and Unity,” he said.

Osteen invited people to attend the special service to celebrate a “time of healing and restoration.”

“We are not people of fear. We are people of faith. God has us in the palm of his hand, and this is not the time to shrink back. This is the time to turn to God, to rally together,” Osteen said.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 16:45

Houston mayor calls for focus on mental illness, 'Red Flag Law' following shooting

Mayor John Whitmire is calling for action in response to the armed attack on Lakewood Church last Sunday.

He said there are lessons to be learned from the loss of the life of the shooter – a 36-year-old mom who allegedly suffered from mental illness and was able to purchase a gun despite her criminal background – and a need for more psychological care and new limits on firearm possession by those failing to behave rationally.

“She was someone’s daughter. It’s just sad to listen to her neighbors talk about the concern over her behavior. That just, we as a society and certain agencies didn’t respond, and red flag laws are certainly one possible addition to our tool kit,” Mr Whitmire said.

Lakewood Church shooting: Mayor's 'call to action'

Mr Whitmire says he attempted, but failed to pass a “red flag law” banning sale of firearms to people with a documented history of mental illness.

He also extended his thanks to the officers who intervened.

“The two heroes, Christopher Moreno, an HPD officer, and Adrian Herrera, TABC, confronted the suspect, and we know it would have probably been worse because of the nature of her assault rifle and amount of ammunition,” Mr Whitmire said.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 17:30

Shooter’s son is ‘doing better’ after being shot in Lakewood Church attack

The former mother-in-law of the woman who opened fire at a Houston megachurch told Fox7 that her grandson who was injured in the shooting is still in critical condition but is doing better.

The seven-year-old boy got caught up in an exchange of gunfire when Genesse Moreno opened fire at Joel Osteen’s megachurch but was gunned down by two off-duty cops. Her son was struck in the head.

Walli Carranza discusses the mental health struggles that her former daughter-in-law, Genesse Moreno, dealt with before the shooting (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Rabbi Walli Carranza believes systemic failures and lax gun laws led to Sunday’s shooting. She said she tried for years to alert authorities about Moreno’s mental health struggles.

"You can’t put responsibility on the mind, when the mind was so very ill. A healthy mother would never bring her child to a situation like this. That’s not mental health. So sometimes we don’t have to find a guilty party or place blame. We can just say there are systems that failed," Ms Carranza told The Associated Press in an interview.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 18:30

Disturbing posts surface from shooter’s alleged social media account in 2022

Posts that featured hate speech and threats allegedly written by Lakewood Church shooter Genesse Moreno were uncovered this week just days after authorities said they found antisemitic writings during their investigation.

KHOU 11 found the writings along with photos of a woman who appeared to be Moreno with guns on a profile on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The account was only active for five days in 2022 between 28 November and 2 December.

More than 50 posts that appeared to be written by Moreno were posted at that time, many of which were reportedly hostile toward Jewish people, the news outlet reported.

At least three posts mentioned Moreno’s ex-mother-in-law by name and referenced the fact that she’s Jewish.

Houston police would not confirm to KHOU 11 that the account belonged to Moreno due to the pending investigation. But other sources confirmed to the outlet the X account is connected to Moreno.

(KHOU 11)
Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 19:30

Genesse Moreno was hospitalized for schizophrenia, affidavit alleges

Moreno, who had a history of mental illness, had been placed under an emergency detention order by Houston police officers in 2016, Houston Police Department Homicide Division Cmdr. Christopher Hassig said during a news conference on Monday following Sunday’s shooting.

Moreno’s former mother-in-law, Walli Carranza, unsuccessfully petitioned a court in Texas’ Montgomery County to be declared conservator of Moreno’s son in 2022.

In an affidavit filed in court related to that petition, Ms Carranza alleged a psychiatrist had placed a “red flag warning” on Moreno in 2016 after she had been hospitalized with schizophrenia.

“There were red flags for six years, and we raised them and we flew them high and nothing was done,” Ms Carranza said.

“We asked for help from (Child Protective Services). … We asked for help from police and received it many times but she was still allowed to own guns.”

It’s unclear why Ms Carranza’s conservatorship effort was not successful.

Andrea Cavallier15 February 2024 20:30

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