Houston police said Monday that Genesse Moreno, the suspect who was shot dead Sunday during a shootout at Joel Osteen’s megachurch that left two others wounded, had a “Palestine” sticker on her rifle and made antisemitic writings.
Moreno, 36, had a string of previous arrests that included assault, drug, and weapons charges, and police revealed in a Monday news conference that she had a “documented” history of mental health issues. She also brought her 7-year-old son to the church, who was struck during the crossfire with a pair of off-duty officers and remains in critical condition.
Christopher Hassig, the commander of the Houston Police Department’s homicide division, said Moreno was engaged in an ongoing dispute with her ex-husband, who is Jewish, and his family. He said that beef and her ex-husband’s religion “might possibly be where all of this stems from.”
“We do believe that there was a familial dispute that has taken place between her ex-husband and her ex-husband’s family,” Hassig said. “And some of those individuals are Jewish.”
Moreno’s former mother-in-law, Walli Carranza, however, casted doubt that the shooting was related to religious hate. Instead, she placed the fault of the shooting on Texas agencies, specifically the child protective services of Harris and Montgomery counties who “refused to remove custody from a woman with known mental illness.”
“Although my former daughter-in-law raged against Israel and Jews in a pro-Palestinian rant yesterday this has nothing to do with Judaism or Islam,” Carranza wrote in a Facebook post. “Nothing! But this is what happens when reckless and irresponsible reporting lets people with severe mental illness have an excuse for violence.”
Moreno, who police said also went by the alias Jeffrey Escalante, was shot dead by two off-duty law enforcement officers after she entered Lakewood Church with an AR-15-style rifle and another unused gun as a Spanish-language service was set to commence on Sunday afternoon, authorities said. Hassig said he believes Moreno legally purchased a gun in December—something that led Carranza to criticize Texas for “not having strong red flag laws that would have prevented her from owning or possessing a gun.”
Hassig said Moreno never made it into the church’s sanctuary and that all of the shooting occurred in a hallway on the building’s west side. He added that it is still being determined the exact motivation Moreno had to carry out the shooting.
Two others were injured in an exchange of gunfire, Hassig said, including Moreno’s young son, who Carranza identified as Samuel Moreno-Carranza. He was listed as being in critical condition on Sunday after being shot in the head. A representative for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office told the Houston Chronicle that the child was not expected to survive.
“Sam is seven years old and is clinging to life today at Texas Children’s Hospital as I fly there from Mexico and his father from Florida,” Carranza said.
A close friend of Carranza who answered a call from The Daily Beast on Monday said the “whole family is shell-shocked.”
A second victim, a 56-year-old man, was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the leg—though authorities said he was stable and was out of the hospital by Monday afternoon.
The brief incident began when shots rang out around 1:50 p.m. local time, with Moreno confirmed to be dead just after 2 p.m. by firefighters.
Records show Moreno had a lengthy rap sheet that went back as far as 2005, with charges that included assault, forgery, marijuana possession, theft, evading and unlawful carrying of a weapon. Records show she had an address in Conroe, about 50 miles north of Lakewood.
Police said as many as 12 shots were fired inside the church, though they didn’t specify how many came from Moreno. Audio of the gunfire was picked up on a livestream the church was airing from its Spanish-language service.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said said Sunday that Moreno also threatened she “had a bomb,” but authorities didn’t find anything in her backpack and vehicle. She reportedly wore a trench coat into the service.
Overnight, federal and state law enforcement raided a home in Conroe that was connected to Moreno, local news outlets reported.
Carranza said Moreno suffered from schizophrenia, but was a “very sweet and loving woman” when she was on the proper medication.
The shooting rattled the church community at Lakewood, with Osteen struggling to find the words to describe the horror felt by those in the service, adding that there likely would have been more victims had shots been fired during the church’s 11 a.m. service rather than in-between events. The church says on its website that it has approximately 46,000 in-person attendees per week.
“We’re going to stay strong,” he said in a news conference Sunday. “We’re going to continue to move forward. There are forces of evil. The forces that are for us, the forces of God are stronger than that.”