CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

What we know about the woman who fired inside a Houston megachurch

Feb 15, 2024, 6:30 AM

Houston megachurch shooting suspect...

Authorities identified Genesse Ivonne Moreno as the shooter at Lakewood Church, in Texas. (Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office)

(Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office)

Originally Published: 14 FEB 24 18:02 ET
Updated: 14 FEB 24 22:18 ET

Editor’s note: CNN’s John Miller, Sarah Engel, Paul P. Murphy, Ashley Killough, Ed Lavandera and Andy Rose contributed to this report.

(CNN) — A woman who fired a rifle inside a Houston megachurch Sunday and was killed by law enforcement had a history of mental illness, a string of arrests spanning nearly two decades and family who had previously sought help from authorities to prevent her from accessing weapons, according to interviews and court documents.

Authorities say 36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno walked into the famed Lakewood Church – just 6 miles from downtown Houston – Sunday afternoon and started shooting, wounding one man before turning her AR-15 toward officers, according to a search warrant. She was shot and killed by law enforcement acting in self-defense, the warrant says.

Her 7-year-old son, whom she brought with her, was shot in the head and taken to a hospital, Houston police said. It is unclear who wounded the child, and CNN has asked police for more information. He was in critical condition Monday, and Houston police did not provide an update on his condition when reached by CNN on Wednesday.

Authorities say they’re investigating what may have motivated Moreno’s rampage, and whether mental health issues or a recent argument with her ex-husband’s family played a role.

Court documents, social media posts and details revealed by law enforcement paint a picture of a woman who struggled with mental illness for years, had undergone a bitter divorce and custody battle for her son and had a slew of run-ins with the law.

Investigators found two firearms on her at the time of the shooting, including the AR-15, which police said she legally purchased in December. Her former mother-in-law alleged the family had repeatedly attempted to get help from both law enforcement and child protective services to help avert a tragedy such as the one that unfolded this week.

Here’s what we know about Moreno.

She was hospitalized for schizophrenia, affidavit alleges

Moreno had a documented mental health history and had been placed under an emergency detention order by Houston police officers in 2016, Houston Police Department Homicide Division Cmdr. Christopher Hassig said during a Monday news conference.

According to state law, a person with mental illness can be detained when they are “at substantial risk of serious harm to themselves or to others.”

In 2022, Moreno’s former mother-in-law, Walli Carranza, unsuccessfully petitioned a court in Texas’ Montgomery County to be declared conservator of Moreno’s son, Sam. Sam is the boy who was shot in the head Sunday, Carranza has said.

In an affidavit filed in court related to that petition, Carranza alleged a psychiatrist had placed a “red flag warning” on Moreno in 2016 after she had been hospitalized with schizophrenia.

Carranza alleged in the same document she had found a gun in Moreno’s things in 2020 and took it to police in Colorado, where Moreno was staying with Carranza at the time, to have it confiscated because of the psychiatrist’s warning. Colorado has laws that aim to prevent people who may pose a risk to themselves or others from having guns. CNN has attempted to reach Carranza for an interview.

Carranza, who wrote on Facebook on Monday that Moreno had in the past taken medication for schizophrenia, said in the same court document that Moreno’s mother told Carranza she was afraid of her daughter’s “violent temper.”

“She was a beautiful and fine young lady before, and then she stopped taking medication and we asked for interventions for her many, many times. She was hospitalized many times, she was violent many times,” Carranza told CNN affiliate KHOU this week about Moreno.

“There were red flags for six years, and we raised them and we flew them high and nothing was done.”

“We asked for help from (Child Protective Services). … We asked for help from police and received it many times but she was still allowed to own guns,” Carranza said.

It’s unclear whether and how Moreno responded to the allegations in the court documents and why Carranza’s conservatorship effort was not successful. But in LinkedIn posts, a user with the name Genesse Moreno appeared to respond to the conservatorship request, repeatedly linking to Carranza’s LinkedIn page and accusing her of slander and defamation.

Moreno also applied in 2022 for a protective order against her ex-husband, alleging he threatened her, and against her former mother-in-law, alleging harassment. The cases were dismissed when Moreno didn’t appear in court.

Moreno should never have been allowed to own firearms, Carranza wrote in her Facebook post.

Texas has no red flag law – also known as an extreme risk protection order law – that would allow authorities to take weapons from a person thought to be in crisis.

“The fault lies in a child protective services of Montgomery County and Harris County that refused to remove custody from a woman with known mental illness that was not being treated and with the state of Texas for not having strong red flag laws that would have prevented her from owning or possessing a gun,” Carranza wrote online.

A spokesperson for Texas’ Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the state’s Child Protective Services, said CPS officials are investigating the shooting alongside law enforcement.

“At this time, DFPS cannot provide additional information because specific details of investigations are confidential according to law,” DFPS spokesperson Melissa Lanford said.

Report: Neighbors say they had raised flags about shooter

On social media, Moreno, who most recently lived about 40 miles north of Houston in Conroe, Texas, described herself as the founder of a real estate and financial services firm. CNN was not able to find anything matching Moreno’s name in Texas real estate license records.

A March 2020 social media post shows a screenshot of a form letter from Lakewood Church thanking Moreno for her donation. Houston’s police chief was asked Monday whether the shooter had a connection to the church and he said it was under investigation.

Records from the Texas Department of Public Safety show Moreno, who was born in El Salvador, had a string of arrests for minor offenses over the past two decades, including possession of marijuana, an assault, illegal possession of a weapon and a forgery charge.

In the court transcript of a 2021 divorce proceeding in Harris County, Moreno’s ex-husband said the two met in 2015 and he was seeking a divorce because his wife had turned violent and had a “total disregard” for her son, who was 3 at the time.

In the transcript, he referred to Moreno as “Jeffrey.” Moreno had in the past used both male and female aliases, including the name “Jeffrey,” but had always identified as a woman, Hassig, the police commander, said in Monday’s news conference.

Their divorce was transferred to county court and finalized in Montgomery County in 2022, according to CNN affiliate KTRK. Moreno’s ex-husband lost custody of Sam once the divorce was finalized, according to the affiliate. It’s unclear what led to the court’s decision.

In court documents relating to Walli Carranza’s petition to be declared Sam’s conservator, Carranza alleged Moreno’s son was born more than three months prematurely with drugs in his system and accused Moreno of refusing to give him the proper care that he required, including not feeding him properly or teaching him how to use the bathroom, and not taking him to critical speech and physical therapy appointments.

On her social media, Moreno talked about her son’s love of going to the park, and wrote about taking him to art museums as a baby and how, as a young child, he had developed an appreciation for art.

Several of Moreno’s neighbors also said in a Monday news conference she had harassed and threatened them, and they had set up a meeting about the problem with local authorities and officials about five months before the shooting, NBC News reported.

One woman said she made a complaint after Moreno allegedly threatened her with a handgun in July 2022, according to NBC News. CNN has reached out to Conroe police for further information.

Authorities investigate dispute with her ex-husband’s family

Police found antisemitic writings connected to the shooter and are investigating whether an argument with her ex-husband’s family, some of whom are Jewish, may have led to the shooting, Hassig said Monday.

“I mentioned antisemitic writing. We do believe that there was a familial dispute that has taken place between her ex-husband and her ex-husband’s family and some of those individuals are Jewish,” Hassig said. “We believe that that might possibly be where all of this stems from.”

Hassig also said the AR-15 Moreno used had a “Palestine” sticker on it.

In her Facebook post on Monday, Carranza, who is a rabbi, said the shooting “has nothing to do with Judaism or Islam. Nothing!”

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What we know about the woman who fired inside a Houston megachurch