CONROE, Texas — Amid a documented history of criminal activity and mental health struggles, the woman who opened fire at Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch with her son in tow appeared to have no difficulties in one area: buying guns.

In the attack Sunday, Genesse Moreno used an AR-15-style rifle that was purchased legally in December, officials said. She was also armed with a .22-caliber rifle. But court records suggest Moreno, 36, had owned at least four other firearms that had been confiscated over the past four years.

Two weapons were taken in separate incidents in Colorado and Texas, according to Moreno’s ex-mother-in-law, and two more were seized and destroyed after an arrest in 2022 outside Houston, prosecutors said. Her gun ownership was also detailed by her neighbors in the Houston suburb of Conroe, who claimed she harassed and threatened them over the years.

How exactly Moreno, 36, obtained the rifles she had Sunday and why she targeted the celebrity pastor’s Lakewood Church remain under investigation. She was killed in an exchange of gunfire with two off-duty law enforcement officers, while her 7-year-old son and a man were injured, Houston police said.

Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen at a news conference at Lakewood Church in Houston on Sunday.Kirk Sides / Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

The man was released from the hospital with a leg injury, investigators said.

Moreno’s ex-mother-in-law, Walli Carranza, said Thursday on Facebook that her grandson, who remains in critical condition after he was shot in the head, “has to fight for life again.” The boy, who was born prematurely at about 24 weeks, had two operations in less than 24 hours, and his brain activity remains uncertain, she said.

“What is the excuse for those who knew and did nothing,” Carranza wrote about Moreno’s ability to obtain weapons, “and for legislators who refuse to allow red flag laws but do allow anyone to buy an assault weapon?”

The word “Palestine” was written on the assault-style rifle Moreno used, authorities said. She also made several statements during the incident, which unfolded between services at the sprawling church complex; officials declined to describe what she said.

Documented history of mental illness

Moreno was married to her son’s father, Enrique Carranza, from 2015 to 2022. Their son was born in 2016, and the pair had a contentious divorce.

The couple’s final divorce decree was issued in May 2022. In court documents, Enrique Carranza described Moreno as a “diagnosed schizophrenic” and violent and said their son was facing “physical and developmental lags” under her care.

“I am afraid of her having my address. She has guns and she brags about it while having my son in the car,” he said in an affidavit, adding that “because of my wife’s schizophrenia, she does not have the capacity to discern reality from fiction.”

Violence is relatively uncommon among people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and while some studies show there may be a link, researchers caution that factors such as substance abuse, childhood trauma and the environment may be part of a person’s case, according to the American Psychological Association.

Walli Carranza described Moreno’s alleged deteriorating mental health in 2022 affidavits related to the couple’s divorce and custody filings. She said Moreno exhibited “erratic behavior” early on in the marriage and had gotten help from psychiatrists.

Authorities had confiscated guns from Moreno several times.

Walli Carranza said she was also concerned about Moreno’s firearms. She said that in 2020, while the couple stayed at her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, she asked her grandson, then 3, to bring his diaper bag to her, and he “reached into it and grabbed an unlocked and loaded handgun,” according to her affidavit.

Walli Carranza, a rabbi, said she later took the gun to the Colorado Springs Police Department, which she served as a chaplain, and asked that “they confiscate it” because she was concerned about Moreno’s having a gun following her psychiatric evaluation in 2016.

But that wasn’t the only gun Moreno had. According to Walli Carranza, when her son and Moreno left Colorado for Texas on an unspecified date, Moreno “pulled another gun out from underneath the seat of her car while Enrique was driving and pointed it at his head” while their son slept in the back seat.

A sheriff’s deputy pulled the car over after seeing Enrique Carranza driving slowly, and Carranza had the deputy call his mother. Walli Carranza said in her affidavit that the deputy confiscated Moreno’s gun.

Moreno “told that officer that this was the only gun in her car but that was a lie,” according to Walli Carranza.

Neither Carranza nor Moreno’s family replied to requests for comment.

Moreno had access to at least two more weapons in the following years.

In April 2022, she was arrested on a charge of unlawful carrying of a weapon in Fort Bend County, Texas, where, authorities said, she had a handgun in her car and was also found with drug paraphernalia, which makes possession of the firearm illegal. She pleaded guilty six months later to that charge, a misdemeanor.

As a result of that case, two guns belonging to Moreno, described as a Smith & Wesson 9 mm handgun and an AR-15 rifle, were confiscated and destroyed, Fort Bend County prosecutors said.

Moreno, who used multiple aliases over the years, was also found guilty in about a half-dozen misdemeanor cases dating to 2005, including for forgery and theft.

Texas isn’t among the 21 states with so-called red flag laws that generally allow law enforcement officers to seize firearms from people believed to be imminent threats to themselves or others.

Federal law does require people to fill out a form when they purchase from federally licensed dealers indicating whether they have certain criminal convictions, but it’s unclear whether Moreno bought her guns through a retail outlet or a private seller, who wouldn’t have been required to ask about her criminal history.

In Texas, people convicted of misdemeanors can possess guns with limited exceptions, such as certain cases of domestic violence. Convicted felons can also own guns with limitations but must wait until five years after their sentences are completed, and the firearms must be kept in their homes.

Scott Sweetow, a retired official with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that in states without red flag laws, like Texas, there’s a “vulnerability” posed by a person in a crisis who has easy access to guns.

“Absent that active threat that somebody is going right now to a location or they’ve been making death threats and they have a gun and they’re going to act right now, absent something like that, you end up with the situation that we see,” Sweetow said of shootings involving people with known mental health issues. “Unfortunately, over and over and over again.” 

Efforts to tighten Texas’ gun laws have been stymied in the Republican-controlled Legislature in recent years in the wake of deadly school shootings in Santa Fe, near Galveston, in 2018 and Uvalde in 2022.

Regardless, Sweetow said, law enforcement doesn’t have the authority to “simply go over to somebody’s house and ask them if they have a gun,” then confiscate the weapon on “the mere suspicion” that a person may have mental health issues.

Threatening behavior

Some of Moreno’s neighbors in Conroe said they saw “warning signs” and tried to convey to local law enforcement their alarming interactions with her, alleging that she targeted, harassed and threatened them, displayed firearms and made them fear being outside their homes.

Police records show at least 20 calls made to Moreno’s home from 2019 to 2023, some of them for allegations of harassment and threatening behavior. Some of the incidents involve accusations neighbors made against Moreno, as well as Moreno’s calling about “suspicious behavior” in her neighborhood.

In June, a neighbor’s daughter filed a report alleging that Moreno was stalking her mother and said she was “afraid that her mother will end up dead.”

Conroe police said Tuesday they reviewed calls involving Moreno in recent years and believe officers acted appropriately. The police records show officers routinely found that despite complaints made by neighbors, no actual crimes occurred.

“Nothing relayed to officers would give authority to arrest or require mental health emergency detention; nor would any of the information have been an indication that the suspect would commit such a heinous crime,” the police department said in a statement.

Outside her home Wednesday, neighbor Janet Fields conceded that guns are common: She carries one, another neighbor has a “no trespassing sign” with an assault rifle pictured on it, and Moreno would display pictures of guns in her home’s windows.

But Fields said something about Moreno’s behavior led her and husband to pray for her. While she said Moreno shouldn’t have had a gun, she wondered what more could have been done after neighbors tried to speak up despite feeling intimidated by her and police decided there was no action to take.

“It’s hard to catch somebody early,” Fields said. “If they are going off the rails, you don’t want to push them off the rails.”

Share.

Leave A Reply

© 2024 Time Bulletin. All Rights Reserved.