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A Texas pastor was fatally shot just before his Sunday service after he discovered a wanted man hiding in his church bathroom this week.
Authorities began the hunt for 21-year-old Mytrez Woolen following reports of an attempted drive-by shooting in Marshall, Texas on Saturday evening, police said at a press conference. Shortly after that, authorities in nearby Lindale said they began receiving reports of a man in a black Volkswagen Jetta pointing a shotgun out of his sunroof.
A high-speed car chase ensued, with the Jetta reaching speeds over 100 miles per hour as it raced through rural Texas, according to police. Finally, as the Jetta veered onto a side road off a highway, one of its tires blew out, sending the car swerving into a front lawn near Starrville Methodist Church, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said at the press conference.
The suspect is said to have then fled the vehicle and vanished into a nearby forest, where deputies spent the next several hours searching for him. After finding one of the man's shoes in a creek at the edge of their search perimeter, deputies left the woods and began monitoring roadways, Smith said.
But Woolen wasn’t on the road. Instead, after authorities had left the area, he’d apparently sought refuge in a church near his crashed vehicle. That’s where pastor Mark McWilliams, 62, is said to have stumbled on Woolen inside a bathroom shortly before his 9:30 a.m. service.
Woolen was allegedly holding a red bank bag belonging to the church when the pastor found him, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reports. Reportedly then drawing a handgun, McWilliams ordered the man onto the ground.
Woolen remained there while the pastor and his wife, who was also in the church at the time, discussed what to do next. While they were talking, Woolen allegedly lunged at the pastor and wrestled the gun from his hands, Smith said.
Woolen then allegedly shot the pastor dead before exiting the church, still armed. McWilliams’s wife scrambled back from him, falling and injuring her shoulder, and Woolen then allegedly shot one churchgoer in the back while making his way to the pastor’s truck. He then allegedly entered the vehicle, having stolen the pastor’s keys, and drove off, Smith said. But this chase was short-lived.
McWilliams’s vehicle was equipped with security technology that made it easy to locate by the police. Once authorities were near the truck, they used the same technology to shut down the vehicle, Smith said. Woolen was arrested, shirtless and wearing only what appears to be a pair of underwear or tight-fitting shorts, as seen in photos uploaded by the Morning Telegraph.
Woolen has been charged with capital murder, making him eligible for the death penalty, along with two counts of assault, according to inmate records. He was also charged with assaulting a family member by impeding breathing — a charge that came out of Tarrant County, Texas, about two hours from where Woolen was arrested.
Only McWilliams, his wife, and two other congregants were in the church at the time of the shootings, Smith said. But the pastor’s death has left deep wounds in the church community.
“Somebody broke our family up,” Carla Manuel told local station KXAN.
The churchgoer who was shot in the back is in stable condition, Smith said.
Woolen’s bond has been set at $3.5 million. It’s not clear if he has an attorney who can comment on his behalf.
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