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2021 Starrville Methodist Church Shooting

Lesson Learned from a Deadly-Force Incident

Man hand holding gun and firing it

This article is based on the Safety Member Certification training module "Active Shooter Response."[1]

From the Bible

... and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way (Ezra 8:31b). 1

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, “I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt” (Samuel 15:2).


“Expect the unexpected.” That advice has been given in many areas of life, such as finance, sports, journalism, education, and security. In Starrville, those opening up the church on a Sunday morning did not expect to find a fugitive hiding there. This was a situation not prepared for. Since every situation differs in the details, our training and drills should focus on responses which can be generally applies to any category of situations, a “What if…?” plan. Expecting the unexpected should mean being ready for anything unexpected.

Hidden Danger

Early Sunday morning, January 3, 2021, about 9:00, Pastor McWilliams, his wife, and another member opened Starrville Methodist Church for Sunday School and Worship. However, this time the classes and service would not go on as scheduled. The pastor found a half-dressed man in a restroom booth a little while before 9:30. They knew there was a fugitive in the area, but didn't know he was in the building.

The young man was a fugitive that sheriff's deputies had been searching for since he crashed a car the previous evening after a high-speed chase. The car came to rest on the church's property and the driver escaped into the woods behind the church. The fugitive broke a window to enter the church.

The pastor pulled out his pistol and told the man to lie down. He told the other member to call 911. When he turned to answer his wife, the fugitive jumped him and took the gun. He then used it to shoot and kill the pastor. Taking McWilliams' keys, the man ran to the exit. On the way he fired at Mrs. McWilliams and missed. She fell while running. He shot the other man, who was also armed, six times, seriously wounding him.

Out in the parking lot, the fugitive got into the pastor's red pickup and sped off. He wouldn't get too far and didn't wreck the truck, thanks to OnStar. With the ID of the truck, the police connected with OnStar and tracked the fugitive's fight. When they had cruisers both in front and behind, they had OnStar turn the engine off. The fugitive/murderer was arrested when he got out of the truck. He couldn't shoot since he'd emptied the pastor's pistol's magazine.

Trouble in Motion

The shooter, who was only 21, had a police record at least since he was 18. This included drugs, assault, trespassing, domestic violence, burglary, drive-by shootings, and firearms violations. What triggered the police chase that Saturday evening was a report that someone was driving through a town while brandishing a shotgun through a sun roof. The ensuing chase was a circuitous 50 miles or more as the young man tried to evade the police. He wrecked the car when he made a high speed corner in Starrville.

At the time, the suspect was a resident of Marshall, about 35 miles east of Starrville. There is very little public information about his life before he was 18 other than he was originally from Arlington (between Dallas and Fort Worth). However, an apparently possible contributing factor is hinted at by his being found incompetent to stand trial until receiving mental health treatment.

What Follows

The wounded church member was taken to the hospital in critical or serious condition. Three years later he told of his experience to a news reporter.

The church and residents of Starrville (an unincorporated area near Winona) mourned the passing of the pastor. Rev. Mark McWilliams was buried in Starrville Cemetery. A couple in the church took in the pastor's widow for a time to help her through her mourning and adjustment to her new life as a widow. She's like a sister to them. She later moved to her home in Frankston, and Mark's body was re-interred in Frankston Cemetery so she could go there more often.

In March, Paul Bolding became the new pastor. In a move unrelated to the shooting, the congregation disassociated from the denomination in March 2023 and is now Starrville Community Church.

Three-and-a-half years after the shooting, the legal aftermath is still going on. In May of this year, the suspect was finally certified as mentally competent to stand trial. The defense has agreed to not use an insanity plea, and the prosecution will not seek the death penalty.

Lesson Learned

The lesson learned is one law enforcement officers have had to learn: Keep your weapon out-of-reach of a suspect.


Use all caution when dealing with a fugitive. If you're armed, take measures to keep him from getting your weapon.

Training Resources

All members of a church safety team should be trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program. A member training through this program who passes each training module (class) will be a Certified Safety Member for two years. After that, recertification will refresh and update the training. Its eight training modules can be taken as Online Training Events (live Zoom classes), as Self-Paced (Individual) Training, or a combination of the two. For a student taking the Online Events, the individual mode can be used for a missed Zoom class. In either case, the test for each class needs to be passed.[1]

More information is available through Sheepdog Church Security articles. This includes weekly (Team Briefing) articles, Lessons Learned articles (such as this one), Church Security Guide articles, and Guest Articles. You can find articles on Sheepdog Church Security Blog Articles, the Church Security Guide, and Safety Ministry Training Articles. Also, Kris has several videocasts on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy, including Sheepdog Shorts, Sheepdog Interviews, and discussions of Lessons Learned and Church Security Roll Call articles.


  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Staff, "Sheriff: Pastor dead, 2 hurt in shooting at Texas church," PBS, January 3, 2021 [].
  3. Doha Madani, Ben Kesslen, and Tim Stelloh, "Pastor killed, two other people injured in Texas church shooting: The shooting occurred Sunday morning at Starrville Methodist Church, about 100 miles east of Dallas.," NBC News, January 3, 2021 [].
  4. Amir Vera, Rebekah Riess and Gregory Lemos, "A Texas church shooting leaves a pastor dead and 2 others injured," CNN, January 4, 2021 [].
  5. Shandel Menezes, "Starrville community grieves death of Pastor Mark McWilliams: Pastor Mark McWilliams leaves behind his friends, family and congregation," CBS19TV News, January 4, 2021 [].
  6. By Associated Press, "Man, 21, charged with murder in fatal shooting of Texas pastor," Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2021 [].
  7. Reagan Roy, "Man accused of murdering East Texas pastor indicted by Smith County grand jury," CBS19TV, March 15, 2021 [].
  8. Zak Wellerman, "Man accused of killing East Texas pastor enters not guilty plea during first court appearance," Tyler Morning Telegraph, Apr 19, 2021; Updated May 25, 2022 [].
  9. Zak Wellerman, "Man accused of killing East Texas pastor showed 'bizarre behavior' with his attorneys," CBS19TV News, December 30, 2021 [].
  10. Shandel Menezes, "1 YEAR LATER: Starrville church shooting victim shares his story, grief for slain pastor," CBS19TV News, January 4, 2022 [].
  11. By KLTV Digital Media Staff, "Man charged with killing Starrville pastor deemed incompetent to stand trial," KLTV, December 13, 2021 [].
  12. KLTV Digital Media Staff and Kristine Guevara, "Arlington man accused of killing Starrville pastor deemed competent to stand trial," KLTV, January 26, 2024 [].
  13. Zak Wellerman, "State won't seek death penalty for man accused of killing pastor in 2021 East Texas church shooting," KYTX, May 11, 2024 [].