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Armed parishioners kill gunman who opened fire in Texas church

Posted: 9:34 AM, Dec 30, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-30 12:27:13-05
Armed parishioners kill gunman who opened fire in Texas church

WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas -- Two parishioners were killed when a gunman opened fire in a Texas church Sunday. Within seconds, members of the church security team shot and killed the suspect.

Neither the victims nor the shooter have been named by authorities as of Monday morning, although officials said the suspect had been arrested multiple times in different municipalities.

"The shooter is relatively transient but has roots to this area," Special Agent in Charge FBI Dallas Matthew Desarno told reporters Sunday night. He added the shooter was not on any sort of watch list.

The shooter and one of the victims died on the way to the hospital, Medstar Mobile Healthcare spokesperson Macara Trusty said. The second victim flatlined, was revived and later died, authorities said.

How the shooting unfolded

City Police Chief J.P. Bevering said the shooter entered West Freeway Church of Christ and sat down in the sanctuary just before 11 a.m. CT Sunday. He then stood, pulled out a shotgun and shot two parishioners, Bevering said.

A video livestreamed from the church, seen by CNN, appears to show the shooting from start to finish. Lisa Farmer, the wife of the West Freeway Church of Christ Minister Britt Farmer, was not inside the church at the time of the shooting but told CNN the video shows the inside of the church building.

The shooter can be seen in the video seated in a pew wearing dark clothing before he gets up and approaches someone in a back corner and appears to talk to them. The individual gestures towards the center of the church before the shooter pulls out a shotgun and starts firing. As gunfire ensues, some parishioners are seen taking cover under their pews while others rush out of the sanctuary.

Another man with a handgun is seen in the video immediately engaging with the shooter and taking him down. Once the shooter is subdued, several other parishioners are seen approaching with their weapons drawn.

Farmer told CNN the shooting happened during communion. "It was so chaotic," she said. "I think all the congregation is being held inside, all being held for questioning."

The church normally has around 280 people attending Sunday services, Farmer said. She didn't identify the congregant who died but described him as a close friend "who would do anything for anybody that he could. Good guy. He's been there for us through thick and thin."

Isabel Arreola, who was sitting a few rows ahead of the shooter in the church, tells CNN affiliate KTVT that when she saw him she knew "something's not right."

She told KTVT the shooter's appearance bothered her so much she pointed it out to her husband. "I told him I don't feel comfortable. I feel he's like dressed in like a beard and that's a wig... it looks so fake... I just kind of kept looking back there," she said.

"I saw him pull the gun out and I was just panicked and then we heard it go off and we're just screaming, you know trying to get under the pews," Arreola told the affiliate. "What triggered him to come and do this? I just think about... It could have been us. It just really breaks my heart to know people are gone."

Arreola said that she saw the church security member grab his gun. "If it wasn't for him... he probably could have killed more," KTVT reported.

Church security took down the gunman

Several officials lauded the actions of the armed church security volunteers who took down the suspect in seconds.

"This team responded quickly and within six seconds the shooting was over," Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told reporters during a Sunday night press conference. "Two of the parishioners who are volunteers on the security force drew their weapons and took out the killer immediately saving untold number of lives."

"The citizens who were inside that church undoubtedly saved 242 other parishioners," Regional Director of Texas Department of Public Safety Jeoff Williams told reporters Sunday night. He also said that no ideology or motivation has been determined behind the shooting.

Church members told affiliate KTVT that the security team started about a year ago. Patrick said that a law passed recently that allows churches to develop, train and plan for their own teams to provide security.

Patrick spoke about another Texas law that took effect in September that makes it legal for people to have guns in houses of worship.

Both laws were passed after a shooting at another church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, left 26 people dead in 2017.

Church service will continue Monday

The church will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to continue the service that was interrupted by the shooting, Britt Farmer, the senior minister said during a press conference.

"We lost two great men today but it could have been a lot worse," Farmer said. "I am thankful our government has given us the opportunity to protect ourselves."

"There is evil in this world," he said. "Today is one sermon I will never preach. It was called 'Leaving a Legacy,' and two men today left a legacy."