ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Woman who opened fire in Houston church left antisemitic writings, police say

Authorities looking into mental illness, dispute with Jewish former in-laws as motive for Genesse Moreno, who stormed megachurch with rifle sporting ‘Palestine’ sticker

Mugshot of Genesse Moreno, who opened fire at Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch on February 11, 2023.
(Screenshot/YouTube; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Mugshot of Genesse Moreno, who opened fire at Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch on February 11, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A woman who opened fire over the weekend at Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston had a history of mental illness and left a trail of “antisemitic writings,” law enforcement officials said on Monday, as their search for a motive entered a second day.

Authorities identified the woman as 36-year-old Genesse Moreno, saying she had opened fire inside Lakewood Church on Sunday with her 7-year-old son in tow.

As a motive, they said they were looking at a range of possibilities: a family dispute, a history of mental illness, and potentially an opinion about the war in Gaza, pointing out that the gun she used in the shooting had a sticker that read “Palestine.” Authorities also said they found “antisemitic writings” belonging to the suspect.

The US has seen an increase in antisemitic incidents since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, which began with the terror group’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel, in which about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and another 253 kidnapped.

Two off-duty law enforcement officers who were working security at the church exchanged fire with and killed Moreno shortly before 2 p.m. local time in the hallway of the church as worshipers were arriving for a Spanish-language service.

The 7-year-old boy, whom officials said was Moreno’s son, was shot in the head and remained in critical condition on Monday.

“We do have some antisemitic writings that we have uncovered in this process,” Christopher Hassig, commander of the Houston Police Department homicide division, told reporters in an update on the investigation. He did not say where the writings were found.

Parishioners of the Lakewood Church led by Pastor Joel Osteen pray together during a service at the church as the city starts the process of rebuilding after severe flooding during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey on September 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

“We do believe that there was a familial dispute that has taken place between her ex-husband and her ex-husband’s family and some of those individuals are Jewish, so we believe that that might possibly be where all of this stems from,” Hassig said, emphasizing that the investigation is in its early stages.

Moreno, who Hassig said had gone by several aliases, including a masculine name, had been put under an emergency detention order by Houston police in 2016, and had a documented mental health history, according to family members.

The majority of mass shootings in the US are carried out by men, making the apparent Houston attempt a rarity. The US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, which studies all forms of targeted violence including mass casualty attacks, found in a 2023 report that 96% of mass attackers from 2016-2020 were male.

Officials said they were still investigating how Moreno obtained her guns, one of which she appeared to have bought in December.

She brought two long rifles into the church — an AR-15, with which she fired multiple rounds, and a 22-caliber rifle that she had in reserve.

She forced her way past a security guard to enter the church around 1:55 p.m. on Sunday, wearing a backpack and a trench coat. She immediately started firing her AR-15, which had a sticker on the bumpstock that said “Palestine,” officials said on Monday.

Moreno said at the scene that she had a bomb and was seen spraying some kind of substance, officials said, but law enforcement found no explosives after searching her backpack and vehicle and no risk of toxic substance exposure.

Law enforcement credited the officers who intervened for thwarting what could have been a catastrophic tragedy. Apart from the 7-year-old boy, a 57-year-old man sustained a leg injury.

Lakewood Church is one of the largest houses of worship in the US, seating about 16,000 people in its sanctuary.

It is led by Joel Osteen, one of the wealthiest and most popular pastors and prosperity gospel preachers in the United States. According to the church’s website, Osteen’s media broadcasts, podcasts and radio programming reach millions of US households and audiences worldwide.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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