The now-deceased gunman who opened fire inside a famous Texas megachurch run by Joel Osteen on Sunday afternoon has been identified as an identity-switching Hispanic woman with pro-Palestine, antisemitic beliefs.
36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno, a biological female who used multiple male aliases, was wearing a trench coat when she entered the Houston-based Lakewood Church with two rifles, a backpack, and a young child by her side around 2 p.m. Sunday.
Previous mugshots show her looking much more feminine. pic.twitter.com/n8vKtpRhGs— Sara Gonzales (@SaraGonzalesTX) February 12, 2024
The shooter used an AR-15 that had the genocidal phrase "Free Palestine" emblazoned on it, a federal law enforcement source told CNN. Investigators are determining whether Moreno was politically motivated or just a disturbed individual, the source said.
According to Commander Christopher Hassig of HPD's homicide division during Monday's press conference, the sticker simply stated "Palestine" on the long gun's buttstock. In addition to the Anderson-manufacturing AR-15, which she used to carry out the church shooting, Moreno possessed a .22 caliber rifle by Blue Line Solutions on her person, but it was not fired at the time.
Authorities have also uncovered "antisemitic writings" in Moreno's possession.
Hassig said police believe there was "a familial dispute" that took place between her and her ex-husband's family. "Some of those individuals are Jewish. So, we believe that might possibly be where all of this stems from," Hassig stated.
Before dying, Moreno declared she had a bomb, although a bomb squad later searched the premises and found no evidence of explosives in Moreno's backpack or car. The shooter also sprayed "some type of substance" on the ground, but investigators still aren't sure what it is. A HAZMAT team and a decontamination crew checked the property to ensure no risk is posed to the public.
"Right now, I can safely say we have not found anything that is of concern to our community or to this location, but we're going to take our time to ensure that we look at every aspect," Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña said at Sunday's news briefing.
Moreno had pulled into the church's parking lot in a white vehicle and entered the building from the west side accompanied by a small, elementary-aged child. The shooting happened in between the church's English and Spanish services. Footage from the church's live feed shows a host making announcements in Spanish, interrupted by sounds of gunshots and screams.
🧵Lakewood shooting briefing:— Shannon Ryan (@_shanryan) February 11, 2024
HPD Chief Troy Finner says 30-35 y/old entered the building armed with a long rifle, trench coat, backpack accompanied by a small child and started shooting
Video: Levi Andrade pic.twitter.com/IYDiNK9aX4
Moreno was swiftly shot dead by intervening law enforcement officers already at the scene.
The pair of off-duty officers—one a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) agent and the other a cop with the Houston Police Department (HPD)—returned fire, killing the shooter. The two were working an extra security gig at Lakewood Church.
There were two victims injured: The seven-year-old boy, allegedly used as a human shield, was hit during the exchange of gunfire and taken to Texas Children's Hospital in critical condition; a 57-year-old man, an innocent bystander, was shot in the leg.
The child caught in the crossfire suffered a gunshot to the head and remains hospitalized fighting for his life.
Moreno is the child's biological mother. She's posted "#momlife" and "#motherandson" content with pictures of a boy in her care.
She also uploaded a lengthy YouTube video warning of dangerous "psychopath" teachers preying on children online.
According to court documents obtained by local outlet KHOU 11, Moreno was in a messy divorce-and-custody battle:
Moreno appeared to have a rocky relationship with her ex-husband. Enrique Carranza was arrested in 2007 for a sex offense in Colorado and failed to register as a sex offender in Harris County in 2016, according to Harris County court records. He is currently in prison in Florida for failing to register as a sex offender, according to Florida Department of Corrections records.
During the 2022 divorce proceedings, Moreno’s ex-mother-in-law also tried to become the managing conservator of their son who was born in 2016, according to Montgomery County court records. Walli Carranza claimed Moreno has a diagnosis of schizophrenia and Munchausen by proxy; had been investigated by CPS four times, and was found to have harmed her child twice. Carranza alleged Moreno pointed a gun at her ex-husband and stored an unlocked handgun in her son's diaper bag.
Moreno's mother was also a Lakewood Church parishioner. Moreno's former mother-in-law may have sought the pastoral staff's assistance in the legal proceedings to try to "understand what caused the women's [Moreno and Moreno's mother's] behavior."
Moreno was placed under an emergency detention order by Houston police in 2016. "We do believe she has a mental health history that is documented through us and through interviews with family members," Hassig told the media on Monday afternoon.
Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner couldn't confirm if the boy and the man were shot by Moreno or the officers.
"I don't want to speculate on that, but what I will say this: If it was, unfortunately—and that female, that suspect, put that baby in danger. I'm going to put that blame on her," Finner told reporters Sunday, hailing the officers as heroes, but announcing that both will be placed on administrative leave while an investigation is underway, as is agency protocol with officer-involved shootings.
"I want to commend those officers [...] It could have been a lot worse," Finner said, thanking them for "stepping up."
"It's certainly traumatic for the officers who had to take a life, and we worry about their mental health as well," Peña added.
Authorities believe this was an isolated incident involving a single-suspect situation. Moreno "acted alone" as "a lone wolf" and not part of "a larger nexus," Hassis emphasized. As of publication, the police have not yet publicly disclosed the shooter's motive.
"There are some discrepancies," Hassig said of Moreno's gender identity. "She has utilized both male and female names, but through all of our investigation to this point [...] She has been identified this entire time as female: she/her," Hassig stated.
In the past, Moreno assumed the alter-ego Jeffery Escalante as well as other male-presenting personas.
Moreno's Facebook page—which expressed leftist, anti-police views—has since been scrubbed. Moreno's since-deleted Instagram account featured posts of her cleaning an AR-15 and donating money to Lakewood Church. There, she uploaded a screenshot of the contribution's confirmation. "[A]s for me and my household...I will honor and bless my church," Moreno wrote.
In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Moreno supported socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). "I WANT HIM IN THE OFFICE AS THE US PRESIDENT," she wrote in an Instagram post, uploading a photograph of Sanders on the campaign trail.
Arrest records show she was an El Salvadoran immigrant. In 2010, it appears U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had lodged an immigration detainer against Moreno, but the federal detention request was "lifted" more than a month later.
🚨 BREAKING: Lakewood Church shooter was previously detained by ICE in 2010 before the hold was “lifted” shortly thereafter. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/AEyqASllqL— Sara Gonzales (@SaraGonzalesTX) February 12, 2024
Moreno had a violent, extensive criminal history stretching back to 2005, according to court records reviewed by Townhall. She was previously arrested for assaulting a public servant, assault causing bodily injury, forgery, theft for stealing cosmetics from a store, evading police, and unlawfully carrying a weapon, among a slew of charges on Moreno's decades-old rap sheet.
Crim Hist. pic.twitter.com/O4EEjI4env— Houston Conservative Forum (@houston_cf) February 12, 2024
Moreno's place of death was listed as the Lakewood Church's lobby, according to medical examiner's records maintained by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. Her time of death was minutes after she started shooting at approximately 1:55 p.m.
Hassig specified she fired multiple rounds in the parish's hallway, not the sanctuary.
Authorities searched a home overnight in the Conroe neighborhood, roughly a 50-minute drive north of Lakewood Church, in connection with the shooting. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AFT) spokesperson told CNN the ATF-Houston division was involved in the multi-agency search, but declined to provide details on what officials were searching for.
Investigators had reason to believe guns, ammunition, and explosive materials were inside the residence because of the bomb threat Moreno made. Moreno was in possession of a yellow-colored rope and substances "consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices, which appeared to be a detonation cord," a four-page warrant to search Moreno's house Sunday night states.
Local law enforcement requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to assist with the search warrant's execution, including forensic analysis of any digital devices collected. FBI Houston's special-agent-in-charge Douglas Williams agreed with HPD's chief: "It is way too early to determine a motive for the shooter's actions, and we're not in the business of speculating."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offered the state's "full support and resources," including the aid of the Texas Rangers, to help Houston.
Our hearts are with those impacted by today’s tragic shooting in Houston.— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) February 11, 2024
Places of worship are sacred.
I have spoken with Mayor Whitmire and offered the full support of Texas to bring this criminal to justice.
Join Cecilia and me in praying for the Lakewood Church community. pic.twitter.com/OVr7pJ0g7Q
Lakewood Church, a Christian megachurch averaging 45,000 weekly attendees, is home to televangelist Joel Osteen. The celebrity pastor reacted on social media. "God will guide us through the darkest of times," Osteen posted on X's platform.
Our community is devastated by today’s events and grateful for the swift actions of law enforcement. May the healing hands of God touch the lives of everyone involved and provide comfort during this difficult time.— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) February 12, 2024
In the face of such darkness, we must hold onto our faith and… pic.twitter.com/hAzOSSX69i