Pastor shot to death, several injured in church shooting in Winona, Texas – KTRK-TV

WINONA, Texas (KTRK) — 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.

According to an update issued by Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith on Sunday, it all started after deputies responded to a call on Saturday in which someone reported seeing a person displaying a gun through the sunroof of a Volkswagen Jetta. That person has since been identified by authorities as 21-year-old Mytrez Beunte Woolen.

Smith said a few hours after the call was reported, a deputy saw the vehicle at a convenience store. That’s when the deputy tried to pull Woolen over, but he fled.

As Woolen was speeding off, Smith said a tire on the Jetta popped, sending the car through a resident’s yard. Smith said Woolen may have had trouble getting a shotgun around airbags and later ran off. At that point, authorities began using dogs and drones to search for Woolen late Saturday in the woods near Winona following the chase.

The pastor, who was identified as 62-year-old Mark McWilliams of the nearby Starrville Methodist Church, discovered Woolen hiding in a bathroom Sunday morning, Smith said. McWilliams drew a gun and ordered Woolen to stop, Smith said, but the Woolen grabbed the weapon and began shooting with it.

McWilliams was killed, a second person was injured by gunfire and another was hurt in a fall. Woolen then stole the pastor’s vehicle and fled east before being arrested by deputies in nearby Harrison County, Smith said.

He said Woolen was hospitalized Sunday afternoon with gunshot wounds to his hand, but that it’s unclear when he was shot.

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 McWilliams, his wife and two other people were in the church at the time.

Woolen appeared 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

It’s unclear exactly when Woolen 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.

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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.

The Associated Press and KLTV contributed to this report.

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