Winona, TX – A Texas pastor preparing for a Sunday morning service was fatally shot by a fugitive who had broken into the building to hide from police the night before, according to investigators.
The incident began at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 2, after Lindale police received several reports about someone brandishing a firearm through the sunroof of a dark-colored Volkswagen Jetta, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said during a press conference on Sunday, according to CNN.
A Smith County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) deputy spotted the suspect vehicle in the parking lot of a Chevron station on Main Street later in the night, but the driver sped off when the deputy tried to make contact with him, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
The suspect, later identified as 21-year-old Mytrez Deunte Woolen, fled down IH-20 and Farm-to-Market roads at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour before he ultimately crashed on property belonging to Starrville Methodist Church in Winona, Sheriff Smith said, according to KSLA.
Woolen then allegedly bailed out of the wrecked car and ran off into the woods, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
Sheriff Smith said a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper had also rammed the vehicle during the chase, CNN reported.
Investigators allegedly recovered a shotgun inside Woolen’s vehicle.
Deputies established a perimeter and used a drone and K-9s to help search the area, but were unable to locate Woolen, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
They expanded the perimeter several hours after beginning the initial search after determining it was likely that Woolen had escaped the initial search area.
Law enforcement officers combed the area for several more hours, but they were unable to locate the suspect and ultimately left.
Starrville Methodist Church Pastor Mark Allen McWilliams, 62, arrived at the church shortly before 9:30 a.m. on Sunday in order to prepare for the morning service, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
His wife, Rosemary, and two other parishioners were also there to assist him, investigators said.
But when McWilliams went into the church bathroom shortly after his arrival, he ended up face-to-face with Woolen, Sheriff Smith told reporters.
“As the pastor opened the bathroom door, he was confronted by the individual who had been hiding in the church,” the sheriff continued. “Apparently, he fled in the woods and when everyone had left, he retreated into the church.”
Woolen was holding the pastor’s red bank bag when the confrontation occurred, according to Sheriff Smith.
“The pastor, who had a firearm himself, apparently drew his firearm on the individual and ordered him to stop,” the sheriff said, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
Woolen followed McWilliams’ commands to get onto the floor, but when the pastor momentarily became distracted by his wife, Woolen used it as an opportunity to grab the gun away from him, Sheriff Smith said.
“[Woolen] came toward the front door then lunged at the pastor and disarmed [him,]” the sheriff said.
The suspect then shot McWilliams, who died from his wounds at the scene, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
The suspect fired at Rosemary, but “was not successful” in hitting her, Sheriff Smith said.
One of the parishioners who was helping prepare for the service was also armed, but wasn’t able to utilize his weapon before Woolen shot him, according to the sheriff.
The man was running away from the gunman when he was shot, Sheriff Smith noted.
The gunshot victim is expected to recover from his wounds.
Here’s the scene of a #shooting in which the pastor of Starrville Methodist Church in #Winona was killed when he confronted a suspect who was hiding in the church’s bathroom following a car chase Saturday night. #Texas #TXNews #TexasNews pic.twitter.com/8S8zcBNln4
— Reagan Roy-Young (@reaganroy) January 3, 2021
Rosemary fell during the attack and was transported to the hospital to be treated for her injuries, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
Meanwhile, Woolen allegedly stole a 2018 GMC pickup belonging to one of the victims and fled the scene, according to Sheriff Smith.
Investigators were able to use the vehicle’s OnStar technology to track and disable to stolen truck, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
Woolen was arrested and transported to a local hospital to be treated for a “burn” injury, according to Sheriff Smith.
Resident Tim Pritchard, 73, lives near the church and has been friends with the McWilliams couple for many years.
“I saw them putting Rosemary in the ambulance,” Pritchard told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “It was total fright. The poor lady, God bless her.”
“We knew them pretty well,” he added. “They were a super nice couple. They were wonderful. We had a great time with them.”
This is the scene outside of Starrville Methodist church in Winona where the Smith county sheriffs office says a shooting took place. There are injuries but it’s unknown how many rn. Waiting to speak to the sheriff for more info @kytxcbs19 pic.twitter.com/NFfeRT4aBo
— Matt Lackritz (@MattLackritz) January 3, 2021
Pritchard said he has never seen anything like the overnight manhunt that took place in his neighborhood.
“I was in Vietnam and I certainly saw a lot of action there. I flew the choppers in the Air Force and it didn’t bother me that much but…” he told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
He said Woolen deserves to suffer the same fate he doled out to McWilliams.
“Justice should be passed on to him and he should have the same justice given to him as was given to Mark,” Pritchard told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
A pastor was killed and two others were injured in a shooting at a Texas church on Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.. The shooting occurred Sunday morning at Starrville Methodist Church in Starrville, about 100 miles east of Dallas. #TexasChurch pic.twitter.com/tUePMqA7Dg
— H24 (@H24News_) January 4, 2021
Sheriff Smith said Woolen is no stranger to the law.
He has been arrested multiple times since last year for probation violations, drug possession, and assault, and was also wanted for questioning in connection with two drive-by shootings, the sheriff told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
According to KSLA, Woolen has a court appearance scheduled for Jan. 13 in Tarrant County, where he has a pending charge of assault against a family member/household member by choking.
Woolen has been charged with capital murder, aggravated assault while using or exhibiting a deadly weapon, and aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
His cumulative bond has been set at over $3.5 million.