Videos Show Exchange of Gunfire at Houston Megachurch


Saturday, March, 2024

by Patrick Reevell

owl-central

The videos released by the Houston police left open the question of who shot a 7-year-old boy as his mother, armed with an assault-style rifle, exchanged fire with off-duty officers.

Just before opening fire with an assault-style rifle in the lobby of a Houston megachurch this month, Genesse Ivonne Moreno walked around the side of her sport utility vehicle and opened a rear passenger door for her 7-year-old son, who got out of the vehicle and followed her into the church.

Moments later, as deafening gunfire erupted in the church, the boy stood in an alcove with his hands pressed to his ears, according to surveillance and body-camera videos released on Monday by the Houston Police Department. At one point, the boy appeared to reach up for Ms. Moreno, as if asking to be picked up.

Later, he could be seen lying motionless on the carpeted hallway floor after being shot in the head.

The videos provided a clearer picture of the Feb. 11 shooting in Lakewood Church, one of the nation’s largest megachurches, led by the televangelist Joel Osteen. But they did not provide a complete account of what took place.

And they did not show the boy being struck, leaving open the question of who shot him. He remained hospitalized in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, officials said.

One officer activated a body camera late, Assistant Chief Keith Seafous of the Houston Police Department said in an introduction to a compilation of the various videos. Another was unable to activate her camera.

Several armed officers appeared to be present inside the hallway at the start of the shooting. Officials have said that off-duty law enforcement officers were providing security to the church. Two of them opened fire, the police said: an off-duty Houston police officer and an agent from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

One video showed Ms. Moreno arriving at the church in her car just before 2 p.m., when officials and witnesses said an English-language service was ending and a Spanish service was beginning.

She could be seen walking into the building without being stopped, holding her son by the hand, and then moving through a main hallway on the west side of the church, carrying the rifle under a trench coat and another rifle in a backpack.

“Ms. Moreno attempted to enter the sanctuary, but the entrance doors were locked,” Assistant Chief Seafous said in the introduction to the video compilation. “An off-duty H.P.D. officer working as church security was notified by a Lakewood Church volunteer that Ms. Moreno had a gun. The officer immediately observed Ms. Moreno. She and the officer exchanged gunfire.”

The sound of the gunfire was thunderous in the broad, tall hallway.

Mr. Seafous said that the off-duty agent from the beverage commission heard the gunfire and also shot at the attacker.

At one point, after initially walking in one direction with her son, Ms. Moreno doubled back past the entrance, striding down the hallway without the boy. “You killed my son,” she could be heard saying. “All I need is help. I need help, that’s all.”

A few moments later, she added: “There’s a bomb in this bag. Stop shooting.”

“Put the weapon down,” an officer shouted.

“I won’t. The bomb is going to go off,” Ms. Moreno replied.

In a separate surveillance video, Ms. Moreno, alone and in the middle of the hallway, appeared to lay the weapon on the floor and pull items from her backpack. It was not clear if her laying the weapon down was in response to the officer.

She took several steps down the hallway and then returned to the weapon before being shot. The police said that no bomb was discovered.

A bystander from the church was also shot in the hip, Mr. Seafous said. He was later released from the hospital.

It was not clear what had brought Ms. Moreno, 36, to the prominent megachurch. Her mother had attended services there, according to her son’s paternal grandmother, Walli Carranza.

Ms. Carranza has said that she does not blame the officers involved in the shooting for the critical injury to her grandson. Instead, she said in an interview this month, she faulted state child welfare officials for leaving the boy, who had a troubled childhood, with his mother, who had a history of mental health struggles and was arrested in 2022 for unlawful weapons possession.

Patrick Reevell

Patrick Reevell serves as the principal political analyst at RicanMagazine, specializing in American politics. He delves into elections, public sentiment, demographic shifts, and polling trends. With a keen eye for detail, Reevell provides insightful commentary on the dynamics shaping the political landscape.