Woman slain by officers after opening fire in Osteen megachurch in Houston; child critical

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Off-duty officers shot and killed a woman who claimed she had a bomb and opened fire with a rifle in Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch on Sunday, leaving a 5-year-old child in critical condition after being hit by gunfire.

The woman, wearing a trench coat and escorting the child, walked into Osteen's Lakewood church in between services shortly before 2 p.m. CT and inexplicably began firing a long rifle, said Houston Police Chief Troy Finner.

"Once she entered, at some point she began to fire," Finner said. He added that officers on scene reported the woman, whose age was estimated at 30-35, said she had an explosive device.

Two officers fired and struck the woman, Finner said, a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission officer and a Houston Police Department officer. "Unfortunately the 5-year-old was hit. There was a 57-year-old man who didn't have anything to do with it, I don't think, who was shot in the leg," the chief said.

Osteen, one of the highest profile pastors in the country who presides over services attended by tens of thousands, said the shooting has left him "in a fog." Services at the church are regularly attended by 45,000 people every week, making it the third largest megachurch in the U.S., according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Osteen’s televised sermons reach about 100 countries.

"We've been here 65 years and to have somebody shooting in your church?" Osteen said at a news briefing with police. "We don't understand why this happened. We're going to pray for that 5-year-old boy, and pray for the lady that was deceased and her family and all, and the other gentleman."

He said the church is "going to stay strong. We're going to continue to move forward. There are forces of evil but the forces for us, the forces of God are stronger than that."

Osteen said he's thankful more people were not hurt. "If there's anything good of it, she didn't get in there and do a whole lot worse damage," he said.

Longtime church member Alan Guity, 35, said he was resting inside the church’s sanctuary before a 2 p.m. Spanish service while his mother was working as an usher when he heard gunshots.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom and I yelled, ‘Mom,’” he said. He ran to his mother and they both laid flat on the floor and prayed as the gunfire continued. They remained there for about five minutes until someone told them it was safe to evacuate. Outside, Guity said, he and his mother tried to calm people down by worshiping and singing in Spanish, “Move in me, move in me. Touch my mind and my heart. Move within me Holy Spirit.”

Officers later searched the backpack and the woman's white vehicle and found no traces of explosives, Finner said. Officers also reported that the woman was spraying something on the floor around her before the assault.

Finner said he didn't know whether the child, hospitalized in critical condition, was injured by the woman or the officers.

Both the agent and the officer were placed on administrative leave, he said. He declined to speculate on why the woman entered the church.

“We don’t know her motivations and we may never know,” he said.

Massive church facility

Houston police tweeted Sunday afternoon that they were responding to a shooting at the church, a 606,000-square-foot, 16,000-seat former sports arena that packs in thousands for services. "This is an on-going, active scene. Please avoid the area," the department posted.

Ed Gonzalez, the sheriff for Harris County, where Houston is the county seat, also posted about the event on X. Gonzalez wrote at 3:10 p.m. that he'd received reports of shots fired at or around the Lakewood Church. The department had deputies working there, Gonzalez said.

Joel Osteen and the Lakewood Church

At 7:10 CT, Osteen posted a message on X, saying the church community is "grateful for the swift actions of law enforcement."

"In the face of such darkness, we must hold onto our faith and remember evil will not prevail," he wrote.

Lakewood Church attracts droves of people to its services every week, with reports varying from 40,000 to 50,000.

The non-denominational church streams services online and was scheduled to air its next broadcast at 7 p.m. CT., but that service was canceled, the church posted on its Facebook page.

Osteen took over as pastor when his father died in 1999. In 2017, he opened the church as a shelter from the Hurricane Harvey flooding, after social media critics slammed the church for not opening its doors sooner.

The church drew headlines again in 2021 when a plumber working at the church found hundreds of envelopes of checks and cash hidden in a wall behind a toilet. The Associated Press later reported the stash may have been linked to an earlier theft of $600,000 in checks and cash reported at the church in 2014.

The church was the site of an abortion protest in 2022, when three protesters stripped to their underwear during a church service.

Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, is pictured in this 2017 file photo.
Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, is pictured in this 2017 file photo.

The city of Houston said on social media Sunday that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was also on scene at the church, as well as City Mayor John Whitmire.

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bullets fly at Joel Osteen Lakewood Church in Houston; child critical