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Lakewood Church shooter named as Genesse Moreno as police confirm word plastered on AR-15 rifle

The shooter who opened fire inside Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has now been identified by police as Genesse Ivonne Moreno – a 36-year-old “lone wolf” who allegedly took her own son to the church before embarking on the shooting using an assault-style rifle with the word “Palestine” across it.

Law enforcement officials held a press conference on Monday, one day after Moreno allegedly entered the megachurch with her seven-year-old son and opened fire with a rifle.

The shooting unfolded at around 1.50pm on Sunday, just minutes before a Spanish-language sermon was scheduled to begin.

Christopher Hassig, with the Houston Police Department’s homicide unit, said that Moreno pulled up outside the church at 1.53pm in her white vehicle.

She opened the door and pulled the seven-year-old boy out of the back seat.

Dressed in a trench coat and carrying a bag, Moreno and the boy entered the building on the west side.

Police said that she is believed to have pointed her weapon at a security guard to get inside the church, where she then began shooting in the hallway, firing off multiple rounds.

Two off-duty police officers returned fire, shooting and killing Moreno.

During what Mr Hassig described as the “gun battle”, the seven-year-old boy suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

He was taken to hospital where he remains fighting for his life in critical condition. A second victim – a 57-year-old man – was also shot in the leg.

He has since been released from hospital.

Police recovered two weapons from Moreno – the AR-15 which was used in the shooting and a 22 calibre rifle. The rifle was legally purchased by Moreno back in December.

During the incident, police previously said that Moreno had also threatened that she had a bomb. But when police searched her vehicle and backpack, they found no explosives.

Chief Finner said at a press conference on Sunday that the woman was also spraying “some type of substance on the ground”. It is not clear what the substance is but officials reassured the public on Monday that tests had been carried out, which confirmed there was no risk of exposure to any chemical.

While the motive for the shooting remains unclear, investigators said that Moreno had a sticker which read “Palestine” on the butt of the rifle.

Police have also since recovered some antisemitic writings, they said.

At the time of the shooting, Mr Hassig said that Moreno was in the midst of a familial dispute with her ex-husband and his family, who are Jewish.

“We think this is where this stems from,” he said.

However, officials urged against speculation, saying that the investigation is still in the early stages.

“It’s way too early to determine a motive for the shooter’s actions and we’re not in the business of speculating,” said Doug Williams, FBI’s special agent in charge of the Houston field office.

Worshippers leave the Lakewood Church on Sunday after the shooting (AP)
Worshippers leave the Lakewood Church on Sunday after the shooting (AP)

No link has been found between the suspect and the megachurch where the shooting took place, but the investigation has so far found that she acted alone.

Moreno used several aliases including both male and female names. However, “all the investigation to this point, she has been identified the entire time as female”, police said.

One such alias is Jeffrey Escalante, NBC News reported. Moreno had a lengthy criminal record with previous arrests including for assault, marijuana possession, forgery, theft, evading and unlawful carrying of a weapon, according to the outlet.

Questions are now being asked as to how she was able to legally purchase a firearm as recently as December, particularly due to her history of mental health concerns.

Officials praised the “valour” and heroism of the two officers who shot the suspect dead, saying that more lives would have been lost if it weren’t for them.

“What happened yesterday was the personification of heroism and valor,” said Kevin Lilly, chairman of TABC, adding that the two off-duty officers “held ground” in the face of a rifle pointing at them at “point blank range”.

“They were a wall that existed between worshippers and terror. Between freedom of religion and murder,” he said.

Joel Osteen, the lead pastor at Lakewood Church, is one of the US’s most notable religious leaders (AP)
Joel Osteen, the lead pastor at Lakewood Church, is one of the US’s most notable religious leaders (AP)

On Sunday night, officials including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) searched a home connected to the suspect in Conroe, Texas.

The home is about 50 minutes north of Lakewood Church. Evidence was collected from the property, CNN reported.

Lakewood Church is one of the largest Christian churches in the US with a capacity to seat about 16,000 people. Mr Osteen, its lead pastor, is one of the US’s most notable religious leaders.

At a news conference following the incident, he said: “It could’ve been a lot worse. We know God’s in control.”

Anyone with information about the suspect or the shooting is urged to contact Houston Police Department.