Fox News and GOP politicians falsely claim Lakewood Church shooter was transgender

Lakewood Church Shooter Genesse Ivonne Moreno Mugshot
Lakewood Church Shooter Genesse Ivonne Moreno Mugshot
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Soon after news broke that a person had entered Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, on Sunday and opened fire, right-wing influencers, Republican politicians, and right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, pushed a false narrative that the suspected shooter was transgender.

Related: No, transgender and nonbinary people are not frequently mass shooters

During a Monday afternoon press conference, Houston officials, including Police Chief Troy Finner and Democratic Mayor John Whitmire, provided updates on the investigation.

The incident, which unfolded just before the church’s Spanish language service on Sunday afternoon, involved a 36-year-old woman opening fire inside the megachurch premises. She was accompanied by a 7-year-old boy, who was critically wounded in the ensuing shootout with police, officials said. A 57-year-old man, not believed to be directly involved in the initial incident, also suffered gunshot wounds but is in stable condition. The shooter was subsequently shot and killed by two off-duty officers working security at the church, authorities confirmed.

The shooter was armed with an AR-15 and a 22-caliber rifle, police officials said.

“She had a long gun, and it could’ve been a lot worse,” Finner remarked. The chief also addressed the critical condition of the injured child, emphasizing the shooter’s responsibility for endangering the child if the police gunfire had led to his injuries. It’s unclear who shot the child.

Whitmire focused on reassurance and the ongoing priority of public safety, stating, “It is our highest priority to have total transparency,” and emphasizing the city’s dedication to addressing mental health issues and ensuring the safety of all places of worship.

Commander Christopher Hassig of HPD’s homicide division clarified the shooter's identity.

“Our shooter is identified by a driver’s license as Genesee Moreno, 36 years old, Hispanic female,” Hassig said. “She has utilized both male and female names, but through all of our investigation to this point…she has been identified this entire time as female.”

Finner later clarified, “It’s the biological mother,” referring to the critically injured 7-year-old boy who was shot in the head.

The incident has also been a magnet for misinformation, notably propagated by far-right figures on social media. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, contributed to the confusion with a post on X, formerly Twitter, making unfounded claims about the shooter’s identity and motivations.

“Not only was the shooter a trans from El Salvador, she also had a gun engraved with ‘Free Palestine’, but investigators can’t say if she was politically motivated or not. When this country starts being truthful, regardless of who’s feelings get hurt, we will solve many problems,” Greene wrote, casting aspersions without evidence.

Hassig disclosed that the buttstock of the AR-15 the shooter used had a single sticker that read “Palestine.”

Chaya Raichik of Libs of TikTok further fueled the misinformation, erroneously writing, “BREAKING: The Lakewood Church shooter was transgender. He went by the name ‘Genesse’ and previously ‘Jeffrey.’ Another act of trans terrorism. We need to have a national conversation about the LGBTQ movement turning youth into violent extremists,” based solely on the suspect’s criminal history listing a male name as an alias.

“There are some discrepancies,” Hassig said, noting, “We do have reports she used multiple aliases, including Jeffrey Escalante,” but that based on police records and interviews, the shooter was identified as female throughout.

Republican Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley also perpetuated the falsehood that the shooter was trans.

“So the Lakewood church shooter was a transgender, pro-Palestine radical. We need a full hate crimes investigation, including the influences on the shooter’s motivation, plans & thinking,” he wrote.

According to a Reuters fact-check, the vast majority of mass shooters are cisgender white men.

Fox News also ran a false story with the headline, “Lakewood church shooting suspect identified as transgender woman; ‘Free Palestine’ written on gun,” before changing it, without adding an editor’s note, to “Lakewood church shooter identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno; ‘Palstine’ written on gun.”

The article’s authors did insert within the body of the piece a sentence that claimed that ‘Preliminary reporting indicated the shooter was transgender,” which is also false.

In response to these misleading narratives, Alejandra Caraballo, a transgender attorney and Harvard Law School instructor, criticized the rush to spread falsehoods.

She wrote: “Far right extremist accounts like Libs of Tiktok rushed to call the shooter at Joel Osteen’s church a transgender woman. The police have just confirmed that is not the case and she was the biological mother of the child who was shot. They won’t apologize or retract their lies.”

GLAAD's president and CEO Sara Kate Ellis told The Advocate in a statement, "It is unbelievably tragic and unfortunately all-too predictable to see another community reeling from gun violence, and social media extremists trying to dictate coverage with repulsive and irresponsible lies. Smearing transgender people is inaccurate and harmful, and it distracts from what should be the focus in every mass shooting: the pain in shattered communities, how gun violence is the number one killer of children, and how easy access to weapons of war continues to endanger every community."

She added: "Social media extremists who obsess over transgender people and new ways to target them are not assignment editors. They are extremists whose disinformation campaigns lead to bomb threats against children's hospitals, elementary schools, libraries and churches. Their lies are dangerous and have consequences. Every reporter and voter must ask their local leaders what they are doing to end gun violence. Every American must reject rhetoric from politicians and extremist media that prioritizes unhinged obsessions over public safety.”