East Texas

Pastor Dead, 1 in Custody in Texas Church Shooting

Officials said one person was being treated for a gunshot wound at an area hospital and another for a fall. The suspect also sustained a gunshot wound to the hand

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith gives an update Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, on a shooting at the Starrville Methodist Church. The pastor of an East Texas church was fatally shot Sunday morning by a man who was hiding in the church after a pursuit.

The pastor of an East Texas church was fatally shot Sunday morning by a man who was hiding in the church after a pursuit, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said.

Around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Lindale police had been in a pursuit with a Volkswagen Jetta near FM849. During the chase, a person in the vehicle brandished a shotgun through the sunroof, Smith said.

After police lost sight of the car, a Smith County patrol deputy spotted it again near FM849 and Interstate 20 and began to follow the car. The Texas Department of Public Safety also got involved.

The car exited near U.S. Highway 271 and crashed through a yard near the Starrville Methodist Church, Smith said.

Starrville is about 14 miles northeast of Tyler.

Law enforcement searched the area for about two hours, but saw no sign of the man, whose identity has not been released.

At about 9:21 a.m. Sunday, the church pastor and several other people went to the church. As the pastor opened the door to the bathroom, he was confronted by the man who had been hiding in the church, Smith said.

He said the pastor pulled out a firearm and told the person to stop, but the person did not listen and lunged at the pastor.

The man disarmed the pastor and shot him with his own weapon, Smith said.

The pastor, whose name has not been released, was killed.

Another person in the church was undergoing surgery Sunday at a Tyler hospital for a gunshot wound, and female was being treated for a fall injury, Smith said.

The suspect, who fled in the pastor's vehicle, was arrested shortly after in Harrison County. He had a gunshot wound to the hand, Smith said.

Officials have not released additional details about how the other person in the church and the suspect were shot.

Smith said the shooting occurred before the start of a church service and was not religiously motivated.

“As far as I’m concerned this is not a church-related or religion-related offense," he said. "This was an opportunity that was convenient for the guy to come out of the woods … and apparently he was still there when they came to the church this morning.” 

He said the suspect had been holding a red bank bag that belonged to the church when he encountered the pastor.

Smith said officials will pursue a capital murder charge.

He did not say why Lindale police were originally in pursuit of the vehicle, but said the car had fictitious license plates.

"Our hearts are with the victims and the families of those killed or injured in this terrible tragedy," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a written statement. "I am grateful for the law enforcement officers who apprehended the suspect, and I ask Texans to join Cecilia and me in praying for those affected by this horrific shooting."

Abbott said the state was working 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."

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