Authorities identified a pastor who was fatally shot at an East Texas church Sunday after he confronted a man who police say was fleeing from law enforcement and hid in the church overnight.
Mark Allen McWilliams, 62, was killed and two other people were injured when Mytrez Deunte Woolen, 21, allegedly grabbed McWilliams’ firearm and began shooting at Starrville Methodist Church, authorities say.
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said at a news conference Sunday that Woolen brandished a shotgun through the sunroof of a car Saturday, prompting the initial search.
Authorities relied on dogs and drones to search for the man late into the night in the woods near Winona, about 100 miles east of Dallas. The man hid inside the church’s bathroom some time after 2 a.m., and McWilliams discovered him early Sunday, Smith said.
“This is not a church-related, religion-related offense,” Smith said, adding that police believe Woolenhid inside the building out of convenience.
Woolen is facing two felony assault charges and one capital murder charge. He was being held at Smith County Jail on a $3.5 million bail, online jail records show. It was not immediately clear if Woolen had an attorney. Smith said Woolen was “known to law enforcement.”
Authorities said the shooting was reported around 9:20 a.m. Sunday, and there were no services ongoing, with only four people inside the church.
McWilliams drew a gun and ordered Woolen to lay down upon discovering him, Smith said. McWilliams was with his wife in the church, however, and was distracted, allowing Woolen to lunge and grab the weapon, Smith said. McWilliams was fatally shot and another person was injured in the gunfire. A third person was injured in a fall.
Smith said Woolen then stole a vehicle and drove east, but police used the car’s GPS to track it and Woolen was arrested in nearby Harrison County. He was hospitalized Sunday afternoon for a gunshot wound to his hand. It was unclear when Woolen was injured.
“Our hearts are with the victims and the families of those killed or injured in this terrible tragedy,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.
Texas gun laws allow licensed handgun holders to carry a weapon in places of worship. The laws came after the deadly massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where two dozen people were fatally shot during a Sunday service in 2017.
Contributing: The Associated Press