Houston police on Monday identified the woman who opened fire Sunday at Lakewood Church as 36-year-old Genesse Moreno, a Conroe resident whose antisemitic writings and conflicts with her ex-husband are being investigated as possible motives for the shooting.
Investigators said Moreno entered Pastor Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch shortly before the start of a Spanish-language service and immediately started shooting an AR-15 style rifle in a hallway, prompting two off-duty law enforcement officers to return fire. Moreno died in the firefight, while her 7-year-old son, who she brought to the scene, suffered a gunshot wound to the head. A 57-year-old man also was shot in the hip.
The 7-year-old remains in critical condition and is “fighting for his life,” Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said. (Authorities previously said the child was 5 years old.) Finner said investigators “don’t know right now” whether the off-duty officers shot the child.
Investigators cautioned Monday that Moreno’s motive remained under investigation, though they disclosed details that pointed to a possible religious and domestic motive.
Houston Police Commander Christopher Hassig said Moreno had a sticker reading “Palestine” on the butt of the rifle she fired. Authorities also “have some antisemitic writings uncovered” during the investigation, Hassig said.
Hassig added that Moreno’s motive “might possibly” stem from “a familial dispute that has taken place between her ex-husband and ex-husband’s family,” some of whom are Jewish.
Hassig also noted that Moreno has a documented history of mental illness known to family members and law enforcement, though he didn’t elaborate on the history. Moreno was put under an emergency detention order by Houston police in 2016, Hassig said.
In an emotional, lengthy Facebook post Monday afternoon, Moreno’s ex-mother-in-law, Rabbi Walli Carranza, called the shooting a “completely preventable horror.” She said her grandson, Samuel Moreno-Carranza, was “clinging to life” at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Carranza wrote that her daughter-in-law had “raged against Israel and Jews in a pro-Palestinian rant” on the day of the shooting. But Carranza emphasized the incident had “nothing to do with Judaism or Islam.”
Instead, she pointed to mental illness and Texas laws related to gun possession, arguing that stronger “red flag” laws — which allow police to take firearms away from people under various conditions — could have prevented Moreno from getting weapons.
“When she was taking medication for schizophrenia, (Moreno) was a very sweet and loving woman,” Carranza wrote. “But mental illness is real illness.”
‘They were a gauntlet’
Law enforcement authorities from multiple local, state and national agencies provided additional details Monday about the shooting, which sent worshippers fleeing from the world-famous church led by Pastor Joel Osteen.
Investigators said Carranza arrived at the west end of the church in a white Lincoln SUV, pulling up minutes before 2 p.m. with her son, an AR-15 rifle, a .22 caliber rifle and a backpack. Moreno pointed the weapon at an unarmed security guard at the entrance of the church, entered a hall outside the worship area, and immediately started shooting the AR-15, Hassig said.
Two off-duty officers working as security at the church — Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Agent Adrian Herrera and Houston Police Department Officer Christopher Moreno — quickly responded to the gunfire. (Christopher Moreno is unrelated to the assailant.)
Authorities said the officers engaged in a pitched gun battle with Moreno.
“They were a gauntlet, they were a wall that existed between worshippers and terror, between freedom of religion and murder,” Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Chairman Kevin Lilly said.
Law enforcement officials declined to specify how many shots were fired, though Finner said all three shooters fired “multiple” rounds.
Moreno died at the scene. Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña said Moreno sprayed then-unknown substances in the hallway before her death, but tests later showed they were “common products we would see in other applications.”
“I can safely say there is no risk of exposure to any chemical or product that was present,” Peña said.
Houston Mayor John Whitmire praised the response by law enforcement and said police were beefing up security at undisclosed locations in Houston. He pledged the city will have “total transparency” about the investigation.
“You will know what we know as we learn it,” Whitmire said.
‘Never cease your efforts’
Court records, law enforcement officials and Carranza’s Facebook post depicted Moreno as a mother struggling to stay out of legal trouble and maintain peace with her ex-husband, Enrique.
Law enforcement in Harris County arrested Moreno five times between 2005 and 2010 on low-level felony and misdemeanor charges, including assault and forgery.
In 2022, Katy police arrested Moreno on a charge of unlawful weapons possession while in possession of drug paraphernalia. Moreno received a two-day jail sentence, and a judge ordered the destruction of the 9 mm handgun and an AR-15 rifle associated with the case. Roderick Glass, chief public defender for the Fort Bend County Public Defender’s Office, said Monday that Moreno was competent to face the charges.
Harris County court records also show Moreno filed for a protective order from her ex-husband in 2017, which a judge denied. In addition, Moreno and her ex-husband each filed for divorce in 2017 and 2020, respectively. Records related to the case are not publicly available.
Florida prison records show Enrique Carranza has been incarcerated there since May 2023 on a charge of failing to comply with sex offender requirements. Walli Carranza wrote in her Facebook post that her son is traveling from Florida to be with Samuel.
Online records show Moreno’s most recent residence as a single-family house in the northeast corner of Conroe. In a search warrant affidavit filed Sunday, a Houston Police Department detective wrote that the vehicle Moreno drove to Lakewood Church was registered to her at the Conroe address.
In response to social media comments identifying Moreno as transgender, Hassig said she used “multiple aliases,” including a male name, but Moreno “has been identified this entire time as female.” Law enforcement officials gave no indication that gender identity played a role in the shooting.
In her Facebook post, Carranza blamed local and state officials for allowing her grandson to stay in Moreno’s custody and failing to keep guns out of Moreno’s hands.
Carranza added that law enforcement officers should not be blamed for doing “his or her rightful duty to save lives,” regardless of whether the investigation shows the off-duty officers shot her grandson.
“If today you suspect that someone needs mental health care, never cease your efforts to secure their safety and that of others,” Carranza wrote.
Seeking a sense of peace
The shooting stunned worshippers at Lakewood Church — or Iglesia Lakewood, as it’s known among its Spanish-language parishioners — and supporters across the globe. The church, which serves an average of about 45,000 people in-person each week, is renowned among Christian congregations in the United States and abroad.
While many Houston-area families call Lakewood home, the Sunday services draw visitors who are attracted to the popularity of the church and its leaders. Pastor Danilo Montero, who leads Spanish-language services, is an influential author and award-winning Christian music singer.
“Lakewood is highly visited. It’s like a tourist attraction,” said Julio Barquero, pastor at Centro Cristiano Discípulos de Cristo in Houston.
Lakewood’s 2 p.m. Spanish-language service follows the church’s service in English. Moreno opened fire minutes before the pastor was set to appear on stage.
Joseph Ojeda, 27, was among those attending the Spanish service at Lakewood for the first time. He and his wife, Mileydi Salazar, arrived early and took their seats on the third row from the stage about 15 minutes before the service started. They were enjoying the worship band when they heard a couple of loud bangs, and then realized those were gunshots.
“It looks beautiful, it truly looks marvelous, there’s a sense of peace in there,” Ojeda said. “But painfully, five minutes before it started, all we heard were gunshots and disturbances.”
Ojeda, who moved to the U.S. from Nicaragua eight years ago, said he was thankful he and his wife made it out of there quickly and unharmed. But about 24 hours after the incident, he said they still wonder if they will continue attending Sunday services at their own congregation.
“Until today, I’ve never lived through anything like this,” Ojeda said.