A fleeing suspect who holed up in a Texas church bathroom disarmed a pastor of his own gun and shot and killed the pastor, according to the Smith County Sheriff.
The shooting death occurred at Starrville Methodist Church in Winona, Texas. In a January 3 news conference, Larry Smith, the Smith County Sheriff, said that the suspect had hidden in the church because it was a “warm place to stay” after fleeing authorities during an unrelated pursuit. The slaying occurred before the start of a church service, said the sheriff.
That’s when the pastor, whose name has not been released, confronted the suspect. The sheriff did say he didn’t believe there was a religious motive for the slaying. The names of the suspect, who is in custody, and the victims, have not yet been released.
“If you’re going to carry a firearm, you have to be willing to use it,” said Smith. “This was a crime of opportunity for this suspect. The church just happened to be there.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement: “Our hearts are with the victims and the families of those killed or injured in this terrible tragedy. I am grateful for the law enforcement officers who apprehended the suspect, and ask Texans to join Cecilia and me in praying for those affected by this horrific shooting.”
The suspect is a 21-year-old man who was arrested in Marshall.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Pastor Opened the Bathroom Door & Confronted the Suspect, the Sheriff Says
A wreck outside the church led to the pursuit. After the pursuit, canines “were in the area for a little over two hours with no success in locating” the suspect, said the sheriff. The suspect had disappeared in the woods. This was before the homicide.
“We had a manhunt with canines and drones and quite a few personnel for a little over two hours,” said the sheriff. “Fast forward to this morning (January 3).”
The pastor, and several other people who included the pastor’s wife, went in the church. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
But then the pastor “opened the bathroom door and confronted the individual. The pastor had a firearm himself, drew his firearm on the individual and ordered him to stop,” said the sheriff.
The Suspect Grabbed the Pastor’s Gun, Officials Say
According to the Sheriff, the suspect started coming toward the front door, turned around and disarmed the pastor. “The pastor’s firearm is the one he used.” He said the pastor was killed.
The suspect then stole the pastor’s vehicle, but a deputy noticed it, and he was taken into custody. The suspect has a gunshot wound to his hand, but it’s not yet clear where that occurred.
When the pastor confronted the suspect in the bathroom, he was holding a church bag. That and taking the pastor’s vehicle make it a capital murder investigation, said the sheriff.
The sheriff said two people were injured by gunshots, not counting the suspect, and a female victim was taken to the hospital due to a fall. There were only four people in the church when the murder occurred.
“It was nothing related to any religious beliefs,” said the sheriff. “The church just happened to be the location he could get into and take refuge during the night after we left the scene.” He said the original pursuit occurred at 7:30 p.m. the night before.
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