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Pastor killed, 2 injured in Texas church shooting

The pastor was killed with his own gun after the suspect disarmed him, authorities said

The Smith County Sheriff's Office investigates a fatal shooting at the Starrville Methodist Church in Texas on Sunday. (Zak Wellerman/Tyler Morning Telegraph/AP)

A pastor was killed, and two people were injured in a shooting at a Texas church on Sunday. The Rev. Mark Allen McWilliams was killed with his own gun after the suspect disarmed him and shot him, authorities said.

Mytrez Deunte Woolen, 21, was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of capital murder, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said Sunday evening.

The shooting, at Starrville Methodist Church, about 100 miles east of Dallas, occurred just after 9 a.m. when only about four people were in the church, authorities said.

McWilliams, 62, of Frankston found Woolen hiding in a bathroom stall and drew his weapon, Smith told reporters. McWilliams ordered the man to get on the ground, but when the pastor began speaking with his wife, Woolen lunged at him, disarming him and shooting him, Smith said.

Two other people sustained injuries that weren’t life-threatening: An unnamed victim was shot, and the pastor’s wife fell during the shooting.

Woolen fled in the pastor’s truck with the church’s red bank bag, Smith said. Law enforcement officers located the car using GPS tracking and detained Woolen, who also had a gunshot wound.

“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,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a statement.

Gunman fatally shot 2 in Texas church before parishioners returned fire, authorities say

Police said they think Woolen was hiding in the church Saturday night after he evaded a chase with police officers and subsequently ran off the road nearby. They suspect the “criminal episode” began in the city of Marshall, where Woolen is a suspect in a drive-by shooting of a home, about 5 p.m. Then, in Lindale, 911 callers told law enforcement officials that a driver brandished a shotgun out of the sunroof of a dark-colored Volkswagen Jetta.

Lindale police officers, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and Smith County deputies chased Woolen before he crashed near the church and fled the car for the woods.

Law enforcement officers later recovered the gun but could not find Woolen over the course of a two-hour search involving police dogs and drones, Smith said, and they eventually believed he escaped and left the area.

It was cold, and the church was probably a convenient shelter, Smith said, adding that it was “a crime of opportunity” and unrelated to religion.

No one with the church could immediately be reached to comment.

Smith declined to say whether Woolen has a criminal record but said he was “known to law enforcement” before the incident.

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Smith said he believed McWilliams was right to arm himself.

“They did everything we would tell them to do; they were carrying,” Smith said of the church. “But the thing about it is, and I don’t want to get off into it, but if you are going to carry a firearm, you got to be willing to use it. I don’t want to be second-guessing the pastor by any means.

“You got a much younger person, a much more agile person,” he continued, referring to the suspect.