(CNN) — Investigators are still trying to figure out what led a 36-year-old mother to open fire with a semi-automatic rifle at a popular Houston megachurch on Sunday, wounding two people, including her 7-year-old son. Before she was killed. Leave was granted by law enforcement.
The assailant, identified as Janes Yvonne Moreno, confronted a security guard outside the Lakewood church this Sunday, where well-known televangelist and pastor Joel Osteen preaches, shortly before 2 a.m. Investigators believe she may have revealed to him that she had There was a gun. The guard, who was unarmed, was forced inside, according to Houston Police Chief Troy Finer.
Wearing a trench coat and backpack, he entered a sports stadium converted for religious services and opened fire in a hallway with an AR rifle, Houston Police Homicide Division Commander Christopher Hassig said at a news conference Monday. A federal law enforcement source told CNN that the woman fired about 30 bullets.
There were two off-duty officers at the church: a 28-year-old Houston Police Department officer and a 38-year-old Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission officer, both with less than five years of service. The police chief said two officers confronted the assailant and she was fatally wounded.
Moreno’s son, who was shot in the head during the ordeal, remains in critical condition at the hospital, Finner said. It’s unclear who shot the boy, and CNN has reached out to police for more information.
A 57-year-old man, who was also shot in the leg, was released from a medical facility, Finner said.
It’s still unclear what led to the shooting and what motivated Moreno, who has a long criminal history and was going through a bitter divorce. Investigators say they are trying to determine whether the incident was politically motivated or committed by a mentally disturbed individual, according to a federal law enforcement source.
“We’re in the early stages of this. I absolutely understand, we want to know the motive, how he got the gun, why he did it,” Douglas Williams, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston office, told reporters. “We’re not there yet.”
The shooting is just the latest example of gun violence disrupting American lives in places once considered safe. This was in the place of worship. Others have gone to schools, grocery stores, shopping malls, hospitals, college campuses, and house parties.
Police say the attacker has a history of mental health issues and anti-Semitic writings
Hours after the shooting, authorities searched Moreno’s home in Conroe, about 50 miles north of Lakewood Church, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Monday.
According to a search warrant obtained by CNN, investigators said the assailant claimed to have a bomb at the scene, but he had a yellow cord resembling a detonating cord and “materials consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices.”
CNN has reached out to the Houston Fire Department for more information.
The attacker used an AR-15 rifle with a “Palestine” sticker on it during the attack, which he purchased legally in December, police said. She also had an unused .22-caliber gun in her purse, according to a federal law enforcement source.
CNN police analyst John Miller said Monday that authorities have a lot of work to do before any motive is clear.
“That’s why federal authorities were executing a search warrant,” he said, noting that they’re looking for “computers, any written documents, USB sticks, social media, online. They’re really looking for this person’s identity.”
Moreno’s social media accounts and information from local authorities paint a picture of a mother with a history of mental health issues navigating the ups and downs of trying to turn her life around and start a business.
During Monday’s press conference, Hassig said the shooter used multiple aliases, including male and female names. Moreno was served with an emotional detainer in 2016 and has a mental health history documented by Houston police, Hassig said.
Texas Department of Public Safety records show Moreno had a series of misdemeanor arrests over the past two decades, including illegal weapons possession. But, at the age of 30, she described herself on social media as the founder of a real estate and financial services company. According to his own accounts on social media pages, he was involved in selling everything from new condos to shopping malls.
A March 2020 social media post shows a screenshot of a form letter thanking Moreno for a Lakewood church donation. This Monday, the police chief was asked if the attacker had any connection to the church and said it was under investigation.
A CNN review revealed the story of a bitter custody battle between Moreno and representatives of his ex-wife’s family that played out on their social media accounts. In 2022, when her divorce proceedings were transferred to county court, Moreno was also arrested on a weapons charge, a misdemeanor, and acquitted with serving two days in the county jail in Fort Bend, according to the attorney who represented her.
According to police, there was some sort of family dispute between the attacker and her ex-husband and the ex-husband’s family, some of whom are Jewish.
“That’s probably where it all comes from,” Hassig added. He said police also found anti-Semitic texts related to the shooter.
Attorney William Capasso said he represented Moreno in 2021-2022 and told CNN that Genesee Yvonne Moreno was then known as Jeffrey Moreno Carranza.
Capasso said he later retired as her lawyer and she represented herself in the divorce proceedings.
The shooter’s complicated story adds to the uncertainty about establishing a motive and creates a “conundrum” for authorities in determining whether the shooting was motivated by hate or a mental health crisis, Miller said.
The woman says she ran away from the shooting and hid in a room with others
With a background in television production, Austin took over his father’s church in 1999 and built a massive following. His services go to 45,000 Houston-area churches weekly, plus people across the country who tune into the sermons online and on television, according to his website.
“We’re devastated,” Austin said Sunday. “We’ve been here 65 years and for someone to shoot up their church…”
A woman who was inside the church at the time of the shooting told CNN affiliate KHOU that Austin was greeting people after the service and she was one of the last to greet him.
After a while, he told the news station, he heard repeated bangs, almost “mechanical noises.”
“It almost looked like they were breaking the folding tables and leaving them on the floor,” he said. “But they were irregular.”
The woman then said she heard another series of explosions and saw people screaming and running. He ran into a room and entered with others, including a child. The group placed two large wooden planks on the door to prevent it from opening and then began to pray.
“We were grateful,” he said. “We could have been victims. We could have been shot.”
— CNN’s Raja Razek, Andy Rose, Ashley Kilo, Jameel Lynch, Lauren Mascarenhas and Zoe Sotil contributed to this report.