“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 is still not clear, but police said they believe Moreno acted alone. 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 using 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 turned up no explosive devices, officials said.
Preliminary tests done of chemicals found at the scene concluded that the materials did not pose any risk, Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña said at the Monday news briefing.
“The products on their own 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 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.
Maria Scott, who lived four doors from Moreno in the city of Conroe, roughly 40 miles north of Houston, said she did not know 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.
Another neighbor, Linda Giutta, wrote on Facebook that she and others from the neighborhood had raised concerns about Moreno with local law enforcement and the city council.
"No one could offer any kind of help," Giutta said in the post. "We are told to see something and say something but nothing gets done until it is too late."
Neither the police department nor Conroe's five council members immediately responded to requests for comment.
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.”
CORRECTION (Feb. 13, 2024, 12:37 a.m.): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of one of the shooter’s neighbors. She is Linda Giutta, not Guitta.