Lakewood Church, home to Pastor Joel Osteen’s famed congregation, draws more than 45,000 worshipers through its doors every week.
It is one of the largest Christian churches in the United States, with room for approximately 16,000 congregants in the hall at any given time.
Now it is also a crime scene after a terrifying shooting took place last weekend.
On Sunday, Feb. 11, worshipers were preparing to attend the Spanish-language service when police said a woman with a young child entered the church armed with a long gun and opened fire.
Two officers confronted the shooter and she was killed by return fire.
The young child was also injured during the fight and remains in critical condition in hospital.
“It’s unfortunate that on a day when we want to go to church and watch America’s greatest sporting event, we are gathered here to respond to this tragedy,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said after the incident.
Although officials said the situation could have been much worse, the incident has left churchgoers and the community in shock.
As the investigation continues, Houston authorities are trying to determine who the woman is and what motivated her to bring a gun to the place of worship.
Here’s everything we know about Houston Lakewood Church to shoot:
Chief Troy Finner with the Houston police told reporters at a news conference on Sunday that the woman, armed with a long gun and believed to be between 30 and 35 years old, entered the west side of the megachurch on Sunday around 1:53 p.m.
She was dressed in a trench coat and a backpack and was accompanied by a small child, about four to five years old.
She started shooting, and two off-duty officers, one a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent and the other a Houston police officer, engaged the woman and beat him. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Longtime church member Alan Guity said he was in the church sanctuary before the Spanish service with his mother, who worked as an usher, when he heard gunshots.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom and I screamed ‘mom,’” he told the Associated Press.
Mr. Guity and his mother both lay flat and prayed as the gunfire continued. They stayed there for about five minutes until they were told it was safe to evacuate, the outlet said.
“Houses of worship. They are, and they will continue to be in our city,” Chief Finner said at the conference.
Authorities said they believe it was an isolated incident with no further danger to the public, but that there will be increased patrols in and around religious institutions of all faiths in the area.
Chief Finner said when officers are involved in a shooting, investigations are conducted and the officers will be placed on administrative duties.
“I want to compliment those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse,” Finner said. “But they did their best and did their job, and I want to thank them for that.”
“It is certainly traumatic for the officers who had to take a life, and we are also concerned about their mental health,” added Fire Chief Samuel Peña.
The child who was with the shooter was injured in the incident and is currently in critical condition at Texas Children’s Hospital.
It is not yet clear how the child was injured. It is also unclear what relationship the woman had with the young child.
When asked if officers shot the boy, Chief Finner said if they “endangered that woman, that suspect, that baby. I’m going to pass that blame on to her.”
Another victim, a 57-year-old man, was also shot in the leg and is seeking hospital treatment but is believed to be in stable condition.
The woman’s identity has not yet been released by authorities, and because the investigation is still in its very early stages, the motive remains unclear at this time.
“We may never know the full story,” Finner said of her motivations for opening fire on the megachurch.
Police said the suspect threatened during the shooting that she had a bomb, but bomb squads searched her white vehicle and backpack and no explosives were found.
She also sprayed a substance, which was not identified by police, on the ground, so the Houston Fire Department was called in to investigate.
The Houston Fire Department also said a hazmat team, decon team and bomb squad were all on scene to manage any fallout from the incident.
They found “nothing of significance to our community or to this location,” and officials said further methodical searches of the building would take place.
So far, authorities are treating this as an isolated incident with no further danger to the public.
The megachurch of Texas
Lakewood Church is located in the Compaq Center, a venue so large it was formerly home to the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
More than 45,000 visitors visit the megachurch every week, which includes a 16,000-seat auditorium and reaches even more believers through international broadcasts.
Also enticing many worshipers is Pastor Joel Osteen, a successful television producer who became a religious leader after his father, John Osteen, also a famous pastor, died unexpectedly, leading to Joel taking over as senior pastor of Lakewood Church in 1999. .
However, Sunday brought an unforeseen event that devastated the congregation; Mr Osteen said the incident left him “in a bit of a fog” but said his community will “stay strong”.
“We don’t understand why these things happen, but we know God is in control,” Osteen said.
“We are going to pray for the five-year-old boy and the deceased lady, her family and the other gentlemen,” he added.
The pastor said he could only imagine what would have happened if the incident had occurred during the 11 a.m. service, since the church was changing services at the time of the shooting.
“Our community is devastated by today’s events and grateful for the quick actions of law enforcement. May the healing hands of God touch the lives of all involved and bring comfort during this difficult time,” Mr. Osteen later added in a statement.