A man pulled out a shotgun inside a North Texas church on Sunday and opened fire, killing two people, authorities said. It could have been far worse.
Two congregants, both volunteer members of the church’s security team, drew their weapons and confronted the gunman, fatally shooting him and saving an “untold number of lives” at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a town of about 17,000 people near Fort Worth.
Their actions, described as “heroic” by the Texas Department of Public Safety, brought a quick end to an attack that remained under investigation on Sunday night. Authorities have not provided information about a possible motive.
Officials have not released the names of the victims or the gunman, whom FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said had roots in the area but is “relatively transient.”
“This team responded quickly and within six seconds, the shooting was over. Two of the parishioners who were volunteers of the security force drew their weapons and took out the killer immediately, saving untold number of lives,” said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who also hailed the state’s gun laws.
“We lost two great men today,” Britt Farmer, the church’s senior minister said, “but it could have been a lot worse.”
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There were more than 240 parishioners in the church at the time of the shooting, authorities said, and the service was being livestreamed to countless homes.
MedStar Mobile Healthcare confirmed two fatalities — one at the scene and another on the way to the hospital. Hours later, FBI spokesman Jason Wandel confirmed the death of the third person.
All of the victims were male.
“It’s tragic and it’s a terrible situation, especially during the holiday season,” said Jeoff Williams, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety. “We have a couple of heroic parishioners who stopped short of just anything that you can even imagine, saved countless lives.”
Licensed handgun owners can legally carry loaded weapons into Texas churches that do not have posted signs banning weapons. Church security became a major issue in the state after a gunman walked into a church in Sutherland Springs two years ago and fatally shot 26 people and wounded 20 others.
“It was the most scariest thing,” Isabel Arreola told CBS11 News. “You feel like your life is flashing before you.”
In a livestream of the church service, the gunman can be seen getting up from a pew and talking to someone at the back of the church before pulling out a gun and opening fire. Parishioners can then be heard screaming and seen ducking under pews or running as papers fly to the floor.
Mike Tinius, a church elder, told The New York Times that one of those killed was a security guard and friend who responded to the shooter. Tinius said that he didn’t know the gunman and that the shooting appeared to be random.
The security guard “was trying to do what he needed to do to protect the rest of us,” Tinius said. “It’s extremely upsetting to see anyone committing violence.”
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement of condemnation for the “evil act of violence” at a place of worship.
“I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life,” Abbott said. “Cecilia and I ask all Texans to join us in praying for the White Settlement community and for all those affected by this horrible tragedy.”
The shooting took place hours after a knife-wielding attacker stabbed five people during a Hanukkah celebration in a rabbi’s home outside New York City. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the attack “an act of domestic terrorism” and directed the state police hate crimes task force to investigate.
Contributing: The Associated Press