Police said a Saturday night police chase in eastern Texas culminated in a fatal encounter Sunday morning at a church between a pastor and a fugitive who was hiding there.
Authorities said the shooting at Starville Methodist Church in Starville, Texas, a small unincorporated community about 100 miles east of Dallas, killed the priest and wounded three others, including the gunman.
Sheriff Larry Smith, of Smith County, said the man was fleeing police in a Volkswagen Jetta Saturday night, waving a rifle from the sunroof of the car during the chase, when he hit a policeman in a Jetta patrol car near the church. Sunday press conference.
The man ran into the woods, leading to a chase involving drones and dogs that lasted more than two hours.
It was not clear why the chase had started, but the mayor said that the license plates on the Jetta the man drove were “fake – it did not belong to that car.”
After running away from the authorities, Sheriff Smith said, the man took refuge late on a Saturday or early on a Sunday to the church.
The priest, his wife, and two others entered the church at around 9:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, unaware that one of the fugitives was hiding in their house of worship.
Al-Sharif said, “Nothing is out of the ordinary.” But when the pastor opened the bathroom door, he discovered the fugitive hiding there, carrying a red church bank bag, said Sheriff Smith.
Al-Sharif said that the man confronted the priest before the priest took out his rifle and “orders him to stop.”
But as they advanced towards the front door, the man rushed towards the priest and overcame him, grabbed the rifle and shot and killed the priest. It was not clear what kind of rifle the priest had or what happened to the rifle the man was carrying during the chase.
Al-Sharif said that the gunman fled the scene in the priest’s car before he was arrested by state forces after they found the car using OnStar.
Officials said the gunman was shot in the left hand, although it was not clear if this happened during the fight with the priest.
Officials said another person, who was shot by a bullet, underwent surgery at UT Health East Texas Hospital on Sunday afternoon. His condition was not immediately available.
Another woman, who was not shot, sustained non-life-threatening injuries from her fall during the chaos that followed the shooting. A hospital spokeswoman said she was in the same hospital and was in stable condition.
The authorities did not immediately identify the victims or the gunman. Al-Sharif said it did not appear that the shooting was religiously motivated and was a crime of opportunity.
Sheriff Smith said, “It was convenient for the man to get out of the woods – it was cold last night – look for him a warm place to stay, and it looks like he was still there when they came to church this morning.”
Sam Griffiths, a Starville resident who was preaching at the church, said the pastor, who had been in office for less than a year, had moved to Starville to run the church and had no family nearby in the area.
He marveled that such an incident had occurred while the priest was trying to prepare the building for Sunday service.
He said, “You turn on the heat, drink the coffee, and suddenly you run into the man.”
Helen Lowry, a Starville resident who lives near the church, said the community has many residents whose families have lived there since their founding in the 19th century.
“I grew up in that church,” Ms. Lowry, 60, said Sunday. “This is shocking.”
Gov. Greg Abbott He said in a statement That the state has been “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 TwitterHe said, “Texas will seek swift justice for the shooter.”