Fugitive Kills Pastor in Texas Church Shooting, Police Say

A police chase on Saturday evening in East Texas culminated in a fatal confrontation on Sunday morning in a church between its pastor and a fugitive who was hiding there, the police said.

The shooting, at Starrville Methodist Church in Starrville, Texas, a small, unincorporated community about 100 miles east of Dallas, left the pastor dead and three others, including the gunman, injured, the authorities said.

The man had been fleeing the police in a Volkswagen Jetta on Saturday evening, brandishing a shotgun through the car’s sunroof during the chase, when a state trooper in a patrol car struck the Jetta near the church, Sheriff Larry Smith of Smith County said at a news conference on Sunday.

The man ran into the woods, leading to a manhunt involving drones and dogs that lasted more than two hours.

It was unclear what set off the chase but the sheriff said the license plates on the Jetta the man was driving were “fictitious — they didn’t belong on that vehicle.”

After he had evaded the authorities, the man took refuge late Saturday or early Sunday in the church, Sheriff Smith said.

Unaware that a fugitive was hiding in their house of worship, the pastor, his wife and two others entered the church at around 9:30 a.m. local time on Sunday.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” the sheriff said. But when the pastor opened the restroom door, he discovered the fugitive hiding there holding a red bank bag that belonged to the church, Sheriff Smith said.

The man confronted the pastor before the pastor drew his gun and “ordered him to stop,” the sheriff said.

But as they moved toward the front door, the man lunged at the pastor and overcame him, taking hold of the gun, and shooting and killing the pastor. It was unclear what type of gun the pastor had or what happened to the shotgun the man had during the chase.

The gunman fled the scene in the pastor’s car before being apprehended by state troopers after they located the vehicle using OnStar, the sheriff said.

The gunman had a gunshot wound to his left hand, though it was unclear if that happened during the struggle with the pastor, officials said.

One other person, a man who was shot, was in surgery at UT Health East Texas hospital on Sunday afternoon, officials said. His condition was not immediately available.

Another person, a woman who was not shot, had non-life-threatening injuries from a fall during the chaos after the shooting. She was in the same hospital in stable condition, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.

The authorities did not immediately identify the victims or the gunman. The shooting did not appear to have a religious motive and was a crime of opportunity, the sheriff said.

“It was convenient for the guy to come out of the woods — it was cold last night — find him a warm place to stay and, apparently, he was still there when they came to church this morning,” Sheriff Smith said.

The pastor, who had been in the position for less than a year, had moved to Starrville to run the church and did not have any close family in the area, said Sam Griffith, a Starrville resident who has preached at the church.

He marveled that such an episode could occur while the pastor was trying to prepare the building for Sunday service.

“You turn on the heat and brew the coffee and all of a sudden you come across the guy,” he said.

Helen Lowry, a Starrville resident who lives near the church, said the community has many residents whose families have lived there since its founding in the 1800s.

“I grew up in that church,” Ms. Lowry, 60, said on Sunday. “This is shocking.”

Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that the state was “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 Twitter, he said, “Texas will seek swift justice for the shooter.”

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