An elderly pastor was shot and killed on Sunday, January 3 morning when he reportedly confronted a fugitive hiding in his church following a police chase, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said. Mark Allen McWilliams, 62, found 21-year-old Mytrez Deunte Woolen hiding in the bathroom of the Starrville Methodist Church shortly after 9 am, CrimeOnline reported.
The pastor brought out his gun and ordered Woolen onto the floor but became distracted at some point, before “the suspect lunged at him and was able to take the firearm out of his hand,” Smith said. After grabbing the firearm, Woolen shot and killed McWilliams before opening fire at two other people inside the church — one of them was struck in the back and underwent surgery at a hospital. He is expected to survive. Rosemary McWilliams, the pastor’s wife, was the other person shot at. She fell while running from the gunman and injured a shoulder, per the report.
Following the shootout, the suspect ran outside and stole a 2018 GMC pickup truck which was equipped with OnStar. The in-vehicle security system was used to track the whereabouts of the truck, and once they caught up with the fleeing suspect, officers “had OnStar shut the vehicle down” and took him into custody. Woolen was taken to a Tyler hospital after he was found to have a gunshot wound. He was later transported to Smith County.
Smith told reporters that authorities had been chasing Woolen since the afternoon of January 2 as he was the prime suspect in a drive-by shooting in Marshall. “I don’t think he even knew [the person he shot at],” the sheriff said. “It’s unclear if he even knew the people in the house he shot at. It appears to be all random.” Lindale police received a tip about two hours after the incident that someone in a dark-colored Volkswagen Jetta was brandishing a shotgun through the sunroof. A Smith County deputy spotted the Jetta at a convenience store parking lot and attempted a traffic stop, but it sped away, thereby sparking a high-speed police chase over several roads. The Jetta was eventually rammed by a trooper’s cruiser, but Woolen fled the vehicle — leaving the shotgun behind.
Deputies would spend the next several hours searching for him in a perimeter using dogs and drones, before finally leaving the area at 2 am. Smith said the suspect “came back” sometime between 2 and 9 am, “broke a window, and entered the church.” While Woolen’s prior criminal record is unknown at this point, Smith said, “he was known to law enforcement.” According to the sheriff, Woolen is “making statements that we need to pursue this investigation” but it is unclear if he admitted to the shooting.
Speaking to Dallas Morning News, Smith said the church was not a target and that services weren’t ongoing at the time of the shooting. “The church happened to be the location he could get into and take refuge,” the sheriff said. Woolen has since been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of capital murder, with his bail set at a staggering $3.5 million.