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Shooter in the sanctuary

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WORLD Radio - Shooter in the sanctuary

Lakewood Church shooter had a history of poor mental health


Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas Associated Press/Photo by Pat Sullivan, File

LINDSAY MAST, HOST: It’s Thursday the 15th of February, 2024. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Lindsay Mast.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: the shooting at a church in Houston, Texas on Sunday.

Given the subject matter, this might be a story you come back to later if children are nearby.

When we cover these stories here at WORLD, we aim for the facts without calling attention to the perpetrator who might be seeking notoriety.

MAST: In this incident at Lakewood Church, there’s been confusion about the shooter’s background and possible motives. Here to bring some clarity along with discernment on this disturbing story is Juliana Chan Erikson. She is WORLD’s marriage, family, and sexuality correspondent.

JULIANA CHAN ERIKSON: Shortly before Lakewood Church’s 2pm Spanish language service this past Sunday, gunshots cut through the chatter.

SOUND: [Gunshots and yelling]

Two off-duty police officers traded fire with the shooter while law enforcement sped to the scene. Later in the afternoon, Houston police chief Troy Finner spoke to reporters.

TROY FINNER: She was armed with a long rifle and a trench coat with a backpack, accompanied by a small child approximately 4 to 5 years old. Once she entered, at some point she began to fire…She's deceased here on the scene. The five-year-old kid was hit and is in critical condition at our local hospital.

A 57-year-old man was also hit in the leg. But apart from that, there were no other injuries. Lakewood Church’s pastor, Joel Osteen, spoke with reporters:

JOEL OSTEEN: I can only imagine if it would have happened during the 11:00 service. We were in between services going into the Spanish service. So, you know, if there's anything good of it, you know what, that she didn't get in there and do a whole lot worse damage. So we thank God for that…

So who was the shooter, and what was the motive for her attack?

Here’s what we know so far.

Police identified the woman as Genesse Ivonne Moreno from her Colorado-issued driver’s license. Moreno previously attended Lakewood Church with her mom, and in 2020 posted on Instagram details for a donation she made to the church.

But from here, the story gets complicated. Here’s Houston Police Commander, Christopher Hassig, on Monday.

HASSIG: There are some discrepancies. We do have reports she used multiple aliases, including Jeffrey Escalante, so she has utilized both male and female names.

Moreno had a criminal record going back decades, with charges for theft and assault, and was involved in a contentious divorce back in 2022. Court records show that her ex-husband, lawyer, and other members of the court also referred to Moreno as Jeffrey. But WORLD was unable to find any ID info on Moreno that supports the theory that this person was born as a male. And documentation about their divorce proceedings refer to Moreno with female pronouns and as the “former wife” and “mother” of their now 7-year-old child.

Another detail that raised concerns for police was that the AR-15 rifle she used had a sticker attached that said “Palestine” on it.

But on Monday, Moreno’s former mother-in-law, Walli Carranza, said on Facebook that it wasn’t Middle East politics but poor mental health that made Moreno volatile. Sound here from CNN.

CARRANZA: She threatened her husband’s life, she threatened mine, she threatened to kill her own son.

According to divorce paperwork, Carranza said Moreno suffered from schizophrenia. She was also known to carry a handgun in her son’s diaper bag.

CARRANZA: We’ve asked for help from police and received it many times, but she was still allowed to own guns.

Even with the symptoms of mental illness, Moreno purchased her gun legally. And since 2021, Texas no longer requires licenses to carry one. But Moreno’s neighbors had concerns about behavior they witnessed.

One neighbor identified by news outlets as Jill said that Moreno often blamed her troubles on other people, or different aspects of her identity. Audio here from Houston Fox affiliate KRIV.

JILL: At first it was, oh, it’s because I’m transgender. Then it was because we’re Mexican. And then it was because we were black. And every time, depending on what her narrative was for that day, she changed the reason for why you were picking on her.

Justin Moreno began identifying as transgender about two years ago, after Moreno complained about the neighborhood mail carrier.

JILL: She filed a false report with the post office stating that he wouldn’t deliver the mail because she was transgender. OK? Well, what the problem was is that they were parking in front of their mailbox.

Jill also said Moreno stalked pedestrians in her car on multiple occasions and nearly ran them over…among other forms of aggressive behavior.

Now Moreno is deceased, and her son is in critical condition in the hospital.

While law enforcement works to learn more about Moreno’s motive in targeting Lakewood Church, one thing is clear: the church had people in the room who were prepared to respond with the right amount of force.

CHUCK CHADWICK: Everybody’s all about active shooter stuff. And yeah, that happens every once in a while.

That’s Chuck Chadwick, founder of the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management.

CHADWICK: But mostly the kinds of things that we deal with are domestic disputes and people that are, you know, have nefarious motives for being there.

Chadwick told WORLD that churches should be intentional about security, investing in training so that members know how to handle a variety of situations. That said, being ready doesn’t mean churches need to have a SWAT team in the pews.

CHADWICK: Most of the time, churches with a few good men or women that are trained appropriately, can usually I think handle the situation.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Juliana Chan Erikson.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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