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Pastor killed in Texas church shooting

By Dana Branham
The Dallas Morning News/TNS

DALLAS - A pastor was killed and another person was wounded in a shooting Sunday morning at a Methodist church in the East Texas community of Starrville, officials said.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said at a Sunday news conference that a man who had been hiding in Starrville Methodist Church after deputies pursued him in a car chase Saturday night confronted the pastor, 62-year-old Mark Allen McWilliams, when he entered the church shortly before 9:30 a.m.

The sheriff identified the suspect Sunday evening as 21-year-old Mytrez Deunte Woolen. He faces two counts of aggravated assault and one charge of capital murder, Smith County jail records show.

The pastor was armed and drew his gun, but Woolen lunged at the pastor and took the weapon from him, the sheriff said.

The man fatally shot the pastor, Smith said. Another person was being treated for gunshot wounds, and third was taken to a hospital after a fall during the shooting, the sheriff said.

Woolen used the pastor’s firearm in the shooting, Smith said.

Authorities said Woolen was fleeing from deputies about 7:30 p.m. Saturday when he bailed out of the car he was in and disappeared into the woods.

Authorities used drones and dogs to search for him, but the search was called off for the night after a few hours. At some point between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m., the man was able to get inside the church to hide, Smith said.

After the shooting, the man stole the pastor’s pickup truck and fled, the sheriff said. He was tracked down and taken into custody in Harrison County, Smith said.

The Harrison County Sheriff’s Office said Smith County deputies tried to stop the man, but he went east on Interstate 20, reaching speeds of up to 120 mph, according to KYTX-TV.

Harrison County deputies arrested Woolen in Marshall. A weapon and the stolen vehicle were both recovered, the sheriff’s office told KYTX.

Woolen was taken to a hospital in Tyler and quickly released for an injury to his left hand, the sheriff said. The sheriff initially said the victim had been shot in the hand, but later Sunday said he appeared to have a burn injury on his hand.

About four people were in the church when the shooting occurred, and there was no indication the church had been targeted, the sheriff said.

“The church happened to be the location he could get into and take refuge,” Smith said.

Gov. Greg Abbott said in a written statement Sunday the state would work 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.”

“Our hearts are with the victims and the families of those killed or injured in this terrible tragedy,” Abbott said.

Woolen was being held in the Smith County jail Monday morning with his total bail set at $3.5 million.

An Arlington address is listed for Woolen in public records, and court records show he has a pending family violence assault case in Tarrant County.