comscore Houston megachurch holds service a week after deadly shooting | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Top News

Houston megachurch holds service a week after deadly shooting

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                The faithful sing during a service at Lakewood Church in Houston. Pastor Joel Osteen welcomed worshippers back to Lakewood Church Sunday for the first time since a woman with an AR-style opened fire in between services at his Texas megachurch last Sunday.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    The faithful sing during a service at Lakewood Church in Houston. Pastor Joel Osteen welcomed worshippers back to Lakewood Church Sunday for the first time since a woman with an AR-style opened fire in between services at his Texas megachurch last Sunday.

HOUSTON >> Celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch held a special service Sunday dedicated to healing and thanksgiving a week after a woman opened fire in one of its hallways before being gunned down by security officers.

Osteen’s Lakewood Church has not had services since the Feb. 11 shooting that sent worshippers scrambling for safety. On Sunday, Osteen, his wife Victoria Osteen and members of the church staff who lead Lakewood’s Spanish ministry sat in chairs on the stage and spoke about the shooting, how it has impacted Lakewood’s community and how the church was moving forward.

Osteen told parishioners it has been a difficult time with “a lot of trauma.”

“You just got to know Lakewood is strong and it keeps getting stronger,” he said. “Fear is not going to win. Faith is going to win. We are going to move forward.”

Church leaders thanked the security staff and others who responded during the shooting and protected parishioners. Osteen invited Houston Mayor John Whitmire and police Chief Troy Finner to the stage and thanked them for their help after the tragedy. Attendees gave officers and security staff a standing ovation.

“After the tragedy of last week, (God) had a purpose in bringing us together to show how united our city is,” Whitmire said during a fiery and emotional speech.

As Osteen and others spoke, people in the audience could be heard saying, “Amen” and “Thank you, God.”

“What today is about is reclaiming what is ours, reclaiming the space that God has provided for all of us” Victoria Osteen said.

Officers from various law enforcement agencies, including Houston Police, walked the hallways during and between services Sunday.

Church spokesperson Don Iloff said 40 to 50 uniformed and plainclothes officers typically work every church service. He said he did not immediately know if that number was higher Sunday.

Police say Genesse Moreno, 36, entered the church between Sunday services with her 7-year-old son and began firing an AR-style rifle. Moreno did not reach the main sanctuary and was killed after exchanging gunfire with two off-duty officers. Two people were wounded in the shooting, including Moreno’s son, who was shot in the head and remained hospitalized.

Osteen, who wiped away tears as he spoke, said he was praying for the boy.

Moreno “came to do a lot of harm, but by the grace of God, we are all here,” Osteen said. “Lord, I know she was troubled in her mind.”

Jocelyn Edwards, 39, who attended one of the two Sunday morning services, said she felt it was important to be there and support Lakewood.

“This is not the end,” said Edwards, who has attended Lakewood since 2015. “We are not broken. We are going to move forward.”

Beth Mast, 50, was also at Lakewood on Sunday with her husband, two daughters and three sons. The family lives in Crockett, Texas, and every week makes the 1½ hour trip to Houston to attend services. She has been a member of Lakewood for the past four years.

“We come every Sunday, and the enemy is not going to stop us,” Mast said. “Fear is not going to have any power over us just because of a bad incident.”

Vera Andronenkova, 54, and her godson Richard Fijas, 33, who both live in Chicago and usually watch services online, said the shooting was a sign that they needed to finally come to Houston and visit the church.

“A lot of people, they asked us, ‘Aren’t you guys afraid to go?’ We did not let that fear stop us,” Fijas said. “We felt like this was the week to come.”

Finner told reporters after the service that investigators were still trying to determine Moreno’s motive and learn more about how she obtained the AR-style rifle she used.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who was also at the service, said investigators “are leaning toward her being more mentally ill and this being a situation of a lone wolf.”

Moreno’s former mother-in-law, Walli Carranza, told The Associated Press that Moreno had long struggled with mental illness. Carranza said she believed systemic failures and lax gun laws ultimately led to the shooting.

She also said she tried to alert authorities and others about Moreno’s mental health struggles, and that in 2020 and 2021, her attorney sent emails to Lakewood Church asking for assistance.

Church officials had not found records of the emails, but they were still looking, Iloff said. Records show Moreno “sporadically” attended services at Lakewood for a couple of years, but there were no records of her being at the church after 2022, Iloff said last week.

Texas lacks a so-called “red flag” law, which generally allows law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to order the seizure or surrender of guns from someone who is deemed dangerous, often because of mental health concerns or threats of violence.

Osteen, 60, preaches to about 45,000 people a week at the church located in a former basketball arena, and he is known to millions more through his televised sermons. Lakewood is the third-largest megachurch in the U.S., according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Comments (4)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up