'Antisemitic writings' found in search of Joel Osteen megachurch shooter's items

UniqueThis 4 Feb 12

“Antisemitic writings” were found in a search of items belonging to the shooter who opened fire Sunday afternoon at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, according to law enforcement.

The woman, identified as 36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno, was carrying an assault-style rifle with the word “Palestine” written on it, according to two senior law enforcement officials briefed on the matter.

A motive for the incident is still not clear, but police said they believe she acted alone and has a documented history of mental health problems. Police said there was a dispute between Moreno and her ex-husband’s family, some of whom are Jewish, may be related to the shooting, Houston Police Commander Chris Hassig said in a news briefing Monday.

The shooter also made several statements during the course of the incident, but the officials declined to describe them. Law enforcement officials added that Moreno previously went by multiple aliases, including both male and female names.

Moreno also brought her 7-year-old son with her to the church, the officials said. During the incident, the shooter stated she had a bomb, but a search of the vehicle showed there were no explosive devices, officials said.

Preliminary tests done of chemicals found on the scene concluded that the materials did not pose any risk, Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña said in the Monday news briefing.

“The products on their own are are benign, and they’re common products that we would see in other applications,” Peña said.

Law enforcement records show the shooter had at least six prior arrests since 2005, including unlawful carrying of a weapon, which she pleaded guilty to; evading arrest; and assault on a public official, which was pleaded to a lesser charge.   

Moreno has a documented mental health history and was placed under an emergency detention order by Houston police in 2016, Hassig said.

Lakewood Shooting
Houston Police and Harris County Sheriffs officers outside Lakewood Church in Houston on Sunday.Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

Maria Scott, who lived four doors down from Moreno, said she did not know the her well, but “people talked about her because she was wreaking havoc.”

She said a couple of years ago Moreno knocked on her door at 7 a.m. “insisting I go get my dogs out of her mother’s yard,” said Scott, 57. “She was just very stern and very, very angry for someone at 7 a.m.”

Scott said she heard from talk in the neighborhood that Moreno carried a firearm.

Police have publicly stated that two off-duty officers at the church returned fire, striking the shooter and killing her at about 1:50 p.m. Her son was also struck in the head during the incident and was in critical condition.

Police Chief Troy Finner said at a news conference Monday that the 7-year-old boy is “fighting for his life.” Police previously said the boy was 5 years old.

Another person who was injured, a 57-year-old man, was released from the hospital, Finner added.

He added that one of the off-duty officers is an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the other is a Houston police officer.

Officials are investigating a wide range of possible motives given the writing on the weapon, but cannot yet conclusively say what led to the shooting. They have not ruled out terrorism or hate crime-related motives.

The shooting happened between services, as people were arriving for Spanish service, Osteen said. About 45,000 people attend services there every week, making it one of the largest megachurches in the country.

Osteen said that he was “in a fog” after the violence and that he was keeping the injured in his prayers.

“We don’t understand why all these things happen,” the pastor told reporters Sunday. “But we know God’s in control.”

In a subsequent statement on Facebook, Osteen urged his congregation to lean on their faith to cope with the anguish.

“Our community is devastated by today’s events and grateful for the swift actions of law enforcement,” he said. “Together, we will rise above this tragedy and stand firm in our commitment to love and support one another.”The shooting happened between services, as people were arriving for Spanish service, Osteen said. About 45,000 people attend services there every week, making it one of the largest megachurches in the country.

Osteen said that he was “in a fog” after the violence and that he was keeping the injured in his prayers.

“We don’t understand why all these things happen,” the pastor told reporters Sunday. “But we know God’s in control.”

In a subsequent statement on Facebook, Osteen urged his congregation to lean on their faith to cope with the anguish.

“Our community is devastated by today’s events and grateful for the swift actions of law enforcement,” he said. “Together, we will rise above this tragedy and stand firm in our commitment to love and support one another.”

Erik Ortiz, Mirna Alsharif and Jonathan Dienst contributed.