September 25, 2021

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Texas Church Shooting: Fugitive Kills Pastor, Officials Say – The New York Times

3 min read

A police chase on Saturday evening in East Texas culminated in a fatal confrontation on Sunday morning in a church between its pastor and a fugitive who was hiding there, officials said.

The shooting, at Starrville Methodist Church in Starrville, Texas, a small, unincorporated community about 100 miles east of Dallas, left the pastor dead and three others, including the gunman, injured, the authorities said.

The man had been fleeing the police in a Volkswagen Jetta on Saturday evening, brandishing a shotgun during the chase, Sheriff Larry Smith of Smith County said at a news conference on Sunday.

The man, identified as Mytrez Deunte Woolen, 21, of Marshall, Texas, was sought in two separate shootings on Saturday evening, Sheriff Smith said. He did not elaborate on those episodes but added that the license plates on the car Mr. Woolen was driving were “fictitious — they didn’t belong on that vehicle.”

After the Jetta crashed near the church — causing the car’s airbags to deploy and obstructing Mr. Woolen from taking the shotgun with him — he ran into the woods, leading to an unsuccessful manhunt involving drones and dogs that lasted more than two hours, Sheriff Smith said.

The church had been searched on Saturday night but Mr. Woolen most likely broke into the building sometime after 2 a.m. on Sunday, the sheriff said.

Unaware that a fugitive was hiding in their house of worship, the pastor, Mark McWilliams, 62, his wife and two others entered the church at around 9:30 a.m. local time on Sunday.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” the sheriff said. But Mr. Woolen was soon discovered hiding in the restroom, holding a red bank bag that belonged to the church, Sheriff Smith said.

The pastor drew his handgun and ordered Mr. Woolen to get on the floor, the sheriff said. But while the pastor was distracted talking to his wife, Mr. Woolen overpowered him, grabbed the gun and shot and killed the pastor.

Mr. Woolen fled the scene in the pastor’s 2018 GMC truck before being apprehended by state troopers after they located and shut down the vehicle using OnStar, the sheriff said.

The gunman had what appeared to be a burn on his hand most likely incurred during the shooting, the sheriff said.

One other person, a man who was shot, had surgery at UT Health East Texas hospital on Sunday afternoon, officials said. His condition was not immediately available.

The pastor’s wife was not shot but suffered injuries from a fall while she was fleeing from Mr. Woolen, who was firing at her, the sheriff said. She was in the same hospital in stable condition on Sunday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.

The pastor’s wife and the other person who was shot were not immediately identified.

The shooting did not appear to have a religious motive and was a crime of opportunity, the sheriff said.

“It was convenient for the guy to come out of the woods — it was cold last night — find him a warm place to stay and, apparently, he was still there when they came to church this morning,” Sheriff Smith said.

He said Mr. Woolen, who was “known to law enforcement,” faces capital murder and weapon and assault charges.

Mr. McWilliams, who had been pastor for less than a year, had moved to Starrville to run the church and did not have any close family in the area, according to Sam Griffith, a Starrville resident who has preached at the church.

He marveled that such an episode could occur while Mr. McWilliams was trying to prepare the building for Sunday service.

“You turn on the heat and brew the coffee and all of a sudden you come across the guy,” he said.

Helen Lowry, a Starrville resident who lives near the church, said the community has many residents whose families have lived there since its founding in the 1800s.

“I grew up in that church,” Ms. Lowry, 60, said on Sunday. “This is shocking.”

Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that the state was “working closely with first responders and local officials to ensure that justice is served and that the Starrville community has the resources it needs during this time.”

In a separate message on Twitter, he said, “Texas will seek swift justice for the shooter.”

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