HOUSTON, Texas – Law enforcement officers conducted a search of the home of a woman who was fatally shot by off-duty officers after she opened fire in one of the largest evangelical megachurches in the country. The incident occurred at Lakewood Church, triggering panic and resulting in a child and a worshiper being shot. Genesse Moreno, 36, entered the church armed with an AR-15 style rifle and wearing a trench coat. She was confronted by off-duty officers working security, who returned fire after she fired several rounds and indicated she had a bomb. As a result, Moreno was killed and a 56-year-old man and a 7-year-old boy were injured.
Investigators found substances consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices, as well as a suspected detonation cord in Moreno’s backpack at the time of the shooting. The injured child was in critical condition and it was unclear what his relationship was to Moreno or what his condition was at the time of the incident. Moreno’s motive for the shooting remains unclear, as does her potential relationship to the church. Background checks revealed that she had prior misdemeanor charges including assault, fraud, and drug charges in the Houston area.
The state of Texas has few restrictions on gun purchases, which raises questions about the legalities of Moreno’s possession of the AR-15 style rifle. Additionally, Moreno was known to use a male first name, Jeffrey, and listed her sex as both male and female in records, leaving uncertainty about her gender identity. Lakewood Church, home to Joel Osteen’s global ministry, holds nearly 45,000 worshipers weekly and was not holding in-person services in the wake of the incident. The church’s security program was credited with preventing further casualties, with the two off-duty officers who stopped the shooter identified as a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent and a city police officer.
Security experts emphasized the importance of intentional security programs at faith-based organizations, especially at large churches like Lakewood. These programs involve members in law enforcement and aim to keep security inconspicuous while being prepared to react in the event of an incident. With about 3 percent of the average congregation being part of these security preparation plans, large churches with more than 10,000 or 20,000 members have about 1 percent of their members trained to react. As authorities continue to investigate the motive behind the shooting, concerns about church security and gun laws in Texas remain at the forefront of the conversation.