Smith County

Pastor Dead, 1 in Custody in Shooting at East Texas Church, Officials Say

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

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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.

Before he was apprehended following the Sunday shooting at the Starrville Methodist Church, 21-year-old Mytrez Deunte Woolen of Marshall had been involved in a shooting in Tyler on Saturday night and fled from law enforcement, according to Lt. Jay Webb with the Harrison County sheriff's office.

The sheriff's office provided few details about the Tyler shooting, but said they knew the man's identity and law enforcement had continued to search for him.

About 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Lindale police were in a pursuit near FM 849 with a Volkswagen Jetta that had "fictitious" license plates. During the chase, a person in the car brandished a shotgun through the sunroof, Smith said.

Police lost sight of the car, but a Smith County patrol deputy later spotted it and the Texas Department of Public Safety joined the pursuit.

The chase ended by the Starrville Methodist Church, near Winona, about 100 miles east of Dallas, when the car crashed through a yard and the person in it fled.

Law enforcement searched the area for about two hours but saw no sign of the man, later identified as Woolen.

On Sunday morning, the church pastor, his wife and two others went to the church. As the pastor, Mark McWilliams, opened the door to the bathroom, he was confronted by a person who was holding a red bank bag that belonged to the church, Smith said.

Smith said McWilliams pulled out a firearm and told Woolen to stop, but he did not listen and lunged at the pastor.

Woolen disarmed McWilliams and shot him with his own weapon, Smith said.

McWilliams was killed. Two people in the church were being treated for injuries -- one for a gunshot wound and another for a fall, Smith said.

Woolen, who fled in the pastor's vehicle, was arrested shortly after in Harrison County following a chase with the driver who at times exceeded 120 mph, Harrison County Lt. Webb said.

A weapon was recovered along with the stolen vehicle, Webb said.

Woolen was being treated for a gunshot wound to the hand, Smith said. Officials have not released additional details about how he or the other person in the church were shot.

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

Smith said the shooting did not occur during 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.” 

Woolen faces charges of aggravated assault use or exhibit a deadly weapon, aggravated assault causes serious bodily injury and capital murder, according to the Smith County Sheriff's Office.

He did not say why Lindale police were originally in pursuit of the vehicle.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott extended his condolences to the people affected by the shooting.

"Our hearts are with the victims and the families of those killed or injured in this terrible tragedy," 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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