Pastor Mark Allen McWilliams was preparing for church service on Sunday morning when he was fatally shot by his own gun, which had been wrested away from him by a suspect who hid from police inside the Starrville Methodist Church in Winona overnight.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said McWilliams and three others arrived at the church, located at 17339 Farm-to-Market Road 16, around 9:21 a.m. to get things ready for Sunday services. But when McWilliams opened the door to the bathroom, he discovered the suspect, Mytrez Deunte Woolen, 21, of Marshall, holding a red bank bag from the church and clutching a firearm.

“As the pastor opened the bathroom door, he was confronted by the individual who had been hiding in the church. Apparently, he fled in the woods and when everyone had left he retreated into the church. He had one of those red bank bags that belonged to the pastor,” said Smith. “The pastor, who had a firearm himself, apparently drew his firearm on the individual and ordered him to stop. He came toward the front door then lunged at the pastor and disarmed the pastor. He then used the pastor’s firearm ... the pastor is deceased at this time.”

Smith said McWilliams used his firearm to make Woolen get down on the floor, but the pastor got distracted with his wife.

“And the suspect lunged at him, and was able to take the firearm out of his hand,” Smith said.

One of the victims with non life-threatening injuries had a gun, but the man was not able to use it before Woolen shot at him while leaving the church. The man’s injuries are consistent with running away from the suspect who was in pursuit of him, Smith explained.

McWilliams, 62, of Frankston, died of his injuries before police arrived on scene. Another individual was treated for non-life-threatening injuries related to a gunshot, while McWilliams’ wife, Rosemary, was taken to the hospital after suffering a fall.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said that Woolen “shot at (McWilliams’) wife and was not successful.”

Woolen fled in one of the victim’s vehicles, a 2018 GMC truck, after the shooting. The truck, with the help of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office and DPS, was ultimately located and disabled using OnStar technologies. Then, Woolen was taken to a Tyler hospital for what Smith believed to be a “burn.”

Smith said, “We were able to work through some OnStar technology to find the vehicle. A Harrison County deputy was able to get behind it and it was disabled.”

According to Smith, the entire incident began with a pursuit around 7:30 p.m. the evening prior, when police heard reports that Woolen, driving a dark-colored Volkswagen Jetta, brandished a shotgun out of the sunroof on Farm-to-Market Road 849 in Lindale.

A Smith County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted the vehicle in the parking lot of the Chevron Convenience Store at 303 S. Main St. in Lindale and attempted to make contact with Woolen, but he fled, speeding across Farm-to-Market roads and IH-20 at rates of 100 mph until his vehicle crashed on the property of Starrville Methodist Church and Woolen ran into the woods.

Law enforcement worked to establish a perimeter, bringing in K-9 deputies and a drone to assist in locating Woolen, and recovered a shotgun from the scene of the crash. The search area was expanded after several hours, “as it was felt that the suspect had escaped the perimeter,” according to a release. Law enforcement personnel remained in the area for several more hours.

Smith said during a news conference that Woolen broke into the church to hide sometime between 2 to 9 a.m. Sunday morning.

With the hours-long search and then the shooting on Sunday morning, neighbor Tim Pritchard couldn’t help but take notice of the harrowing scene.

“I saw them putting Rosemary in the ambulance, it was total fright. The poor lady, God bless her,” Pritchard, who attends prayer service at Starrville Methodist Church on Tuesdays, said. He was at a service in Hawkins during the incident Sunday. “Mike Sellers, who I hope recovers completely, he was shot and he is a super nice guy ... I hope and pray for everybody.

Pritchard, 73, said the manhunt and incident was something like he has never seen.

“I haven’t seen anything quite like this before. I was in Vietnam and I certainly saw a lot of action there. I flew the choppers in the Air Force and it didn’t bother me that much but ... “ Pritchard said. “We knew them pretty well, they were a super nice couple. They were wonderful, we had a great time with them.

As for Woolen, Pritchard said, “Justice should be passed on to him and he should have the same justice given to him as was given to Mark.”

Woolen, who has several arrests since 2019 for assault, drug possession and probation violations, was also wanted for questioning in two drive-by shootings, Smith said.

Smith said with the fatal shooting, stealing the car and having the bank bag, “We are looking at a capital murder investigation here with everything put together here.”

Woolen is charged with capital murder, aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and aggravated assault use or exhibit a deadly weapon.

When Woolen was released from the hospital, he was taken to the Smith County Jail on overall bonds totaling $3.5 million.

Smith noted that the investigation into the shooting is in the early stages and further information will be released once available.

Smith County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Andy Dunklin ordered an autopsy for the body of McWilliams.

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John is a two-time national columnist of the year. He has earned top AP awards for news, videos and sports writing and won the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award. He has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX News and CNN.

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I came to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in September 2019. I report on crime, courts, breaking news and various events in Tyler and East Texas.