Pastor dead, two hurt in shooting at Texas church

WINONA, TEXAS (AP) — A 21-year-old man who hid from police in an East Texas church was charged with first-degree murder and felony assault in a shooting that left the pastor dead and two other people injured on Sunday, a local sheriff said.

Authorities had been using dogs and drones to search for the man on Saturday in woods near Winona following a car chase, and the pastor of the nearby Starrville Methodist Church discovered him hiding in a church bathroom on Sunday morning, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said at a news conference.

Smith said police were initially pursuing the man because he was suspected of brandishing a shotgun through the sunroof of a Volkswagen Jetta he was driving on Saturday. Authorities believe the suspect, identified as 21-year-old Mytrez Deunte Woolen of Marshall, Texas, broke into the church after police had left the area around 2am on Sunday.

Pastor Mark Allen McWilliams, 62, drew a gun and ordered Woolen to stop, Smith said, but 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 hospitalised on Sunday afternoon with gunshot wounds to his hand, but that it’s unclear when he was shot.

Woolen was charged with felony assault and capital murder. He’s being held at Smith County Jail, and bond is set at USD3.5 million.

The shooting was reported around 9.20am, and there were no services going on at that time, said sergeant of the sheriff’s office Larry Christian. Smith said the pastor, his wife and two other people were in the church at the time.

The Smith County Sheriff’s Office investigates a fatal shooting incident at the Starrville Methodist Church in Winona, Texas. PHOTO: AP