News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Smith County Sheriff: Pastor Dead, 2 Hurt In Shooting At East Texas Church

A small white church with a steeple is surrounded by yellow police tape and police officials' vehicles Sunday morning after a shooting took place at the church.
Zak Wellerman/Tyler Morning Telegraph
The Smith County Sheriff's Office investigates a fatal shooting incident at the Starrville Methodist Church on Sunday morning, Jan. 3, 2021. A suspect who fled has been arrested, said the sheriff’s office.

A pastor was killed and two other people were injured in a shooting at an East Texas church Sunday after the pastor confronted a man who had hidden from police in the church overnight, a local sheriff said.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith identified the suspect as Mytrez Deunte Woolen, 21, of Marshall. He has been charged with capital murder and two types of aggravated assault.

Smith also identified the pastor who died as Mark McWilliams, 62, of Frankston.

The chase began on Saturday, when the Lindale Police Department responded to calls about the dark Volkswagen Woolen was driving, Smith said at a press conference. It had been reported that someone was holding a gun out of the car's sunroof.

According to Smith, Woolen fled sheriff's deputies and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers at high speed, until his car's spare tire gave out and a DPS vehicle rammed him.

Authorities used dogs and drones to search for Woolen late Saturday in woods near Winona, he said.

Pastor McWilliams of the nearby Starrville Methodist Church discovered him hiding in a church bathroom Sunday morning, Smith said.

McWilliams drew a gun and ordered him to stop, Smith said, but the suspect grabbed the weapon and began shooting with it. The pastor was killed, a second person was injured by gunfire and another — the pastor's wife — was hurt in a fall.

The second person who was shot has non-life threatening injuries, Smith said.

The suspect then stole one of the victims' vehicles and fled east before being arrested by deputies in nearby Harrison County, Smith said.

Smith emphasized that this was not a premeditated shooting.

"This is a crime of opportunity for this suspect. The church just happened to be here," Smith said.

In a statement, Gov. Greg Abbott said the state is working with local officials.

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

In a Tweet, he promised that "Texas will seek swift justice for the shooter."

Representatives of Starrville Methodist could not be immediately reached for comment.

Associated Press
Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.