WINONA, Texas — A pastor was killed and two other people were injured in a shooting at an east Texas church Sunday after the pastor confronted a man who had hidden from police in the church overnight, a local sheriff said.
Authorities had used dogs and drones to search for the man for two hours late Saturday night in woods near Winona following a car chase, and the pastor of the nearby Starrville Methodist Church discovered him Sunday morning hiding in a church bathroom and holding a red bank bag that belonged to the church, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said at a news conference.
Smith declined to say why authorities had been searching for the man.
The pastor drew a gun and ordered the man to stop, Smith said, but the suspect moved toward the front door, then lunged, disarmed, and shot the pastor.
The pastor was killed, a second person was injured by gunfire and another was hurt in a fall.
The surviving gunshot victim was in surgery Sunday, and his condition was unknown, Smith said.
The man stole the pastor’s vehicle and fled east before being arrested by deputies in nearby Harrison County, Smith said. He said the man was being treated Sunday afternoon at Tyler-area hospital for a gunshot wound to his left hand, but that it’s unclear when he was shot.
Smith declined to identify the pastor, the other people injured or the suspect. However, ABC affiliate WFAA reported the pastor killed was 62-year-old Mark McWilliams, 62.
WFAA also named the shooting suspect as Mytrez Deunte Woolen, 21, and said he had been booked into the Smith County Jail on $3,500,000 bond.
The sheriff said the suspect would be facing a capital murder charge from the Smith County District Attorney’s Office.
The shooting was reported around 9:20 a.m., and there were no services going on at that time, said Sgt. Larry Christian, of the sheriff’s office. Smith said the pastor, his wife and two other people were in the church at the time.
The man appears to have taken shelter in the church out of convenience and there’s nothing to indicate the shooting was motivated by religious animus, the sheriff said.
“This is not a church-related, religion-related offense,” said Smith.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent his condolences.
“Our hearts are with the victims and the families of those killed or injured in this terrible tragedy,” he said in a statement.
“I am grateful for the law enforcement officers who apprehended the suspect, and I ask Texans to join Cecilia and me in praying for those affected by this horrific shooting. The State of Texas is working closely with first responders and local officials to ensure that justice is served and that the Starrville community has the resources it needs during this time.”
It’s unclear exactly when the man entered the church in Starrville, near Winona, about 100 miles east of Dallas.
Representatives of Starrville Methodist could not be immediately reached for comment. Starrville Methodist was built in 1853, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
The shooting came a little more than a year after a gunman opened fire at a church near Fort Worth, killing two people before he was fatally shot by a congregant.
Texas officials hailed the congregant’s quick action, saying it prevented further killing and showed the effectiveness of the state’s permissive gun laws, including a 2019 measure that affirmed the right of licensed handgun holders to carry a weapon in places of worship.
That law was passed in response to the 2017 massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where a man fatally shot more than two dozen people at a Sunday service before taking his own life.
Since then, a cottage industry has sprung up in Texas and other states to train and arm civilians to protect their churches using the techniques and equipment of law enforcement.