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Lakewood Church Shooting, 2024

Lesson Learned from a Church Shooting

A bible laying on the back of a church pew

This article is based on the Safety Member Certification training module "Active Shooter Response" and the Church Security Guide article "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training."[1][2][3]

From the Bible

The parents were to arrest the rebellious son and bring him before the city elders (the local court) to be tried:

Then said Achish unto his servants, "Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?" (1 Samuel 21:14)

As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, "Am not I in sport?" (Proverbs 26:18-19)

>I applied mine heart to know ... the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness (Ecclesiastes 7:25).


Mental illness is one of the two leading causes of deadly-force attacks in places of worship. The other is domestic violence, and they often overlap. An active shooter may be a member of the church, a family member, an acquaintance of a member, or someone not organically connected with the congregation.

It is easy for us to say that we should know of and keep track of those mentally ill who are connected to the church. Well, that may be easier with a small congregation where everyone knows everybody else. It is a bit of a stretch when the congregation is larger than a few hundred. In a megachurch it is next to impossible. If we have a ministry to the mentally ill, there may still be mentally-ill persons organically connected to the church who are outside the sphere of that ministry.

As much as we may want to keep those who are mentally ill from becoming active killers at our church, we need to be ready to protect the flock if and when they do attack.

No Church Is Too Big

The scene is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. It is considered to be the largest local church in the nation. The time is 1:53 p.m. on Sunday, February 11, 2024. The Spanish language service is scheduled to begin at 2:00.

As recorded on surveillance camera footage, a white SUV enters the parking lot and pulls up along the curb in front of an entrance - this is not a parking slot, but part of the fire lane. The driver, a woman in a trench coat, gets a backpack out of the rear door and goes around to the passenger side. She takes a 7-year-old boy (her son) from the child seat and heads to the door. Hidden inside the trench coat is an AR-15.

According to one news story, the woman shows the rifle to an unarmed security guard at the door and goes in (other stories do not mention her using the gun to brush past the guard). Once inside, she brandishes the AR-15, firing a few shots. At one point, as heard in a surveillance video, she claims to have a bomb.

The shots get the attention of security guards farther inside. Church attenders in the corridor begin to run away from the scene while a few armed guards work their way toward the shooter. Some of the guards freeze a while before moving. At least one finds a hiding place, holding his gun in readiness in case the shooter comes around the bend. A video shows two other guards, one with a drawn handgun, edging their way down the corridor.

When the shooter sees the guards, who are off-duty law enforcement officers, she fires on them, and they return fire. In the exchange of gunfire, the woman dies, her son is critically wounded, and a bystander is hit in a leg.

Terminal Mental Illness

This active shooter had a long history of trouble. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia while young and did not have a good relationship with her mother, who was fearful of the daughter's "violent temper." Her illness led to several items on police records. In 2016, she was the subject of an "emergency mental health detention order."[21]

When she married, her schizophrenia was under control with medications. However, when she became pregnant, she got off the meds. After the birth of her son she was on and off her meds. Her husband got a divorce. She had an off-and-on relationship with her mother-in-law, who did care about her.

By the time of the shooting, the suspect was totally delusional. This included claims on social media of tremendous business successes.

The real question is why she chose to go to Lakewood Church, and why at that time. What we do know is that her mother attended the Spanish services. Did the suspect expect to enter the sanctuary and shoot her own mother? We'll never know, but it is possible. In 2003, at Turner Monumental A.M.E. in Atlanta, a mentally-ill woman killed her mother and the pastor.[4] In several other shootings also, family members were the primary targets.


The Spanish service did not go on as scheduled. Pastor Osteen, who was greeting parishioners at the time, was moved to safety. The next Sunday, a service was held to remember God's protection for the church, mourn the death of a mentally-ill person, and have hope for the future.

A really serious response was increased awareness of mental illness and its impact on the rest of society. On March 5, Simon Osamoh posted a Security Connections article on Worship Facility, "Lessons Learned: The Tragedy Behind the Tragedy at Lakewood." According to Simon, the "tragedy behind the tragedy" is the failure to address mental health crises.[21]

Lesson Learned: Always be on the lookout

With no warning we know of that the suspect had targeted Lakewood Church or a person in attendance, the best way to keep this active shooter from acting was to be alert, always on the lookout for pre-attack indicators. We do commend the church's security personnel for responding to the shooter as soon as they knew she was active. The question is, "Could she have been stopped sooner?" Yes, if pre-attack indicators had been seen in real time and action taken.

Pre-Attack Indicators

What were the indicators that the suspect was or may have been a threat?

  1. Security cameras showed the suspect parking in the fire lane and getting out of her vehicle. This alone is a violation of norms.
  2. She was wearing a long trench coat. At the time of the shooting, the temperature in Houston was between 75 and 79.[14] Therefore, wearing a trench coat and carrying a backpack should have made anyone monitoring the camera suspicious. Seeing the boy could have softened suspicions. However, some criminals use babies and children as cover.

Questions Raised

  1. Why not a video of her coming through the door? An up-close frontal view would have indicated more than what was seen in the parking lot video.
  2. Why not a better video? The next video released was of the suspect stopping in a corner of the corridor to pull out the rifle, then brandishing it. The resolution of this video is not good and the action is jerky. One could not see facial features.


  1. Monitor all surveillance cameras.
  2. Be alert to violations of norms, such as parking in a no-parking space and wearing inappropriate clothing. Long coats have been used to conceal long weapons, such as rifles, shotguns, and machetes or swords.
  3. Watch for backpacks. They can hide larger handguns, ammo, grenades, etc.[8]
  4. Train greeters and guards at the doors to look for and radio anything suspicious.
    1. If the guard had suspected a rifle before the suspect got to the door, the door could have been locked (a lockout).
    2. If the shooter had shown the rifle to an unarmed guard while coming in, he should have reported it and called for a lockdown.
  5. Confront a suspicious person as soon as possible. Hopefully, this will be soon enough to use verbal de-escalation.
  6. Drill Safety Team members in realistic active killer response scenarios.[9]

There are some recommended physical preparations for a church:

  1. Have high-resolution surveillance cameras.
  2. Place a camera inside each entrance aimed to record everyone coming in.
  3. Install safety glass (or safety film) on all glass doors, entryway side windows, and all ground-level windows.


Be alert for any pre-attack indicators of an active killer incident, such as signs of a weapon, unusual behavior, and suspicious clothing.

Training Resources

All members of a Church Safety Ministry should be trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program. Additionally, those whose work in the church, whether staff or volunteers, should participate in safety/security training related to their work.

Safety Member Certification has eight training modules and two training formats: Individual Certification (self-paced training) and Online Events (live Zoom classes). A student can take all classes in one format or mix the two. Online Events classes are offered on a schedule: Sunday afternoons 3:00 to 5:00 Central Time. Here are the remaining classes for this year:






Training Module


Mar 24

Sep 8

Nov 3

Safety Team Fundamentals


Apr 7

Sep 15

Nov 10

Active Shooter Response


Apr 14

Sep 22

Nov 17

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Apr 21

Sep 29

Nov 24

Protecting Children from Abuse


Apr 28

Oct 6

Dec 15

Basic Use of Force Laws


May 5

Oct 13

Jan 5

Arson and Fire Safety


May 19

Oct 20

Jan 12

Storms and Disasters


Jun 2

Oct 27

Jan 19

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Note that there are no Online Events classes during the summer. While Online Events classes do have the advantage of questions-and-answers and classroom discussion, Self-Paced Training can be taken any time.

Available all the time are weekly articles (such as what you are reading now), Church Security Guide articles, and Sheepdog Articles (including "Church Safety: Active Killer Response Strategies") on the Safety Ministry Training page, which also has guest articles, including "Today we will Dig into Bag Searches" by Terry Berringer.[2][3][5][6][7][8]


Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [] .
  2. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [] .
  3. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [] .
  4. WGV, "The 2003 Turner Monumental AME Shooting," Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, April 26, 2021 [] .
  5. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Articles, Safety Ministry Training [] .
  6. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety: Active Killer Response Strategies," Sheepdog Articles, Safety Ministry Training, 2023 [] .
  7. Terry Berringer, Guest Articles, Sheepdog Articles [] .
  8. Terry Berringer, "Today we will Dig into Bag Searches," Guest Articles, Sheepdog Articles, January 30, 2024 [] .
  9. Kris Moloney and Carl Chinn, "Sheepdog Interview - Stress Inoculation | Church Security Roll Call 287," Sheepdog Church Security Academy, YouTube, November 29, 2021 [] .

News Accounts

  1. Wikipedia, Lakewood Church shooting [] .
  2. Christina Maxouris, Lauren Mascarenhas and John Miller, "Shooter at Houston megachurch had lengthy criminal history including weapons charges, police say," CNN, February 12, 2024, Updated February 13, 2024 [] .
  3. Christina Maxouris, "What we know about the woman who fired inside a Houston megachurch," CNN, February 14, 2024 [] .
  4. Lucio Vasquez, "Lakewood Church shooting: Surveillance video, bodycam footage released by Houston police," Houston Public Media, February 26, 2024 [] .
  5. Staff, "Past Weather in Houston, USA — February 2024," Time and Date [] .
  6. Cybele Mayes-Osterman, "New footage shows moments after shooter opens fire at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church," USA Today, February 27, 2024 [] .
  7. John Wayne Ferguson, "Timeline: How the deadly Lakewood Church shooting unfolded in Houston," Houston Chronicle, Updated February 13, 2024 [] .
  8. Mireya Villarreal and Gina Sunseri, "Lakewood Church shooting was 'predictable and preventable,' suspect's former mother-in-law says," ABC News, February 13, 2024 [] .
  9. Juan A. Lozano and Jim Vertuno, "Here's the latest on the investigation into the shooting at Joel Osteen's megachurch," AP News, Updated February 17, 2024 [] .
  10. Greg Wehner (Fox News), "Dramatic bodycam video from Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church shooting released: ‘Father God, just be with us'," New York Post, February 26, 2024 [] .
  11. Juan A. Lozano, "Houston megachurch holds healing and thanksgiving service a week after deadly shooting," AP News, Updated February 18, 2024 [] .
  12. Simon Osamoh, "Lessons Learned: The Tragedy Behind the Tragedy at Lakewood," Worship Facility | Security Connections, March 5, 2024 [] .