The pastor of an East Texas church was fatally shot Sunday morning by a man who was hiding in the church after a pursuit, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said. According to Lindale police, at approximately 7:30 p.m. police were in pursuit with a Volkswagen Jetta. During the chase, a person in the vehicle brandished a shotgun through the sunroof.
After police lost sight of the car, a Smith County patrol deputy spotted it again and began to follow the car. The Texas Department of Public Safety also got involved.
The car exited near U.S. Highway 271 and crashed through a yard near the Starrville Methodist Church, which is about 14 miles northeast of Tyler. Law enforcement searched the area for about two hours, but saw no sign of the man, whose identity has not been released.
At about 9:21 a.m. Sunday, the church pastor and several other people were at the church, and the pastor was confronted by the man as he opened the door to the bathroom, according to police. Smith said that the pastor allegedly pulled out a firearm while warning the individual to stay put, but the man then lunged at the pastor.
According to Smith, the intruder disarmed the pastor before shooting him with his own weapon. The pastor’s name has not yet been released. Smith says that two other people were shot in the altercation, with one person undergoing surgery Sunday at a Tyler hospital.
The suspect fled the scene driving the pastor’s vehicle before later being arrested in Harrison County. Reports say that he suffered a gunshot wound to his hand.
Authorities say that the shooting occurred before the start of a church service and they do not believe it to be religiously motivated. Smith went on record saying, “As far as I’m concerned this is not a church-related offense. This was an opportunity that was convenient for the guy to come out of the woods…and apparently he was still there when they came to church this morning.” Smith says that the suspect was holding a red bank bag belonging to the church when the pastor encountered him. Officials went on record saying that they will pursue capital murder charges.
On Sunday, Governor Abbott released a statement, “Our hearts are with the victims and the families of those killed or injured in this terrible tragedy. I am grateful for the law enforcement officers who apprehended the suspect, and I ask Texans to join Cecilia and me in praying for those affected by this horrific shooting.”