Authorities have collected evidence from a Roman Catholic church in downtown Phoenix where one priest was fatally shot and another was critically injured, but investigators say they still don't have any suspects or solid leads.
Authorities have collected evidence from a Roman Catholic church in downtown Phoenix where one priest was fatally shot and another was critically injured, but investigators say they still don’t have any suspects or solid leads.
Police are unsure how many perpetrators were involved or whether robbery was the motive in the recent attack at the Mother of Mercy Mission near the state Capitol.
A vehicle belonging to the Rev. Kenneth Walker, who died at a hospital late Wednesday, was found abandoned a few blocks from the church.
Police were investigating whether the suspect or suspects took the 2003 Mazda and left it behind after the crime. Authorities were examining the vehicle for clues in what Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia called a “tragic and appalling criminal violation.”
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Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said the city was shocked and saddened as police pleaded for the public’s help in identifying the suspects.
As police investigated the crime scene at the church Thursday, about a dozen parishioners gathered across the street, kneeling on the sidewalk and reciting the rosary in response to the loss of their beloved clergyman. A bouquet of flowers and a photograph of Walker lay on the sidewalk.
The Rev. Joseph Terra, 56, was hospitalized in critical condition with unspecified wounds.
The two priests lived at the church, located along a gritty stretch of downtown Phoenix. Terra served as pastor and Walker, 28, as assistant pastor.
Terra called 911 to report a burglary around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and administered last rites to the wounded Walker while waiting for police to arrive.
The Rev. Fred Adamson, vicar general of the Phoenix Diocese, said the act brought a “great deal of comfort and consolation to us as Catholics, that he was able to extend that in his own suffering.”
Deacon Jim Trant, of the Diocese of Phoenix, speculated that the suspect or suspects may have just knocked on the church door to be allowed in by the priests.
“It’s normal for people to knock on the door here,” even late at night, Trant said.
Parishioner Bill Haley visited Terra in the hospital and said the priest was in critical condition but able to talk.
“He said nothing evil about the person who did this, expressed no ill will,” Haley recalled. “He expressed great concern about Father Walker, and I’m concerned about the cross he’s going to have to carry now as a survivor of this … He asked everyone to pray for him.”
Haley, who knew both priests well, joined others in prayer Thursday outside the church.
“He truly is a father, and he loves his parishioners deeply,” Haley said of Terra. “He would care for both our spiritual as well as our physical good.”
Walker was a “young priest full of energy” who loved baseball and the outdoors and would learn the names of each new parishioner and would even visit some for dinners at their homes, Haley added.
Adamson said both men believed the church “was a safe place to live.”
“Father Terra is a pretty strong man. He’s not afraid of anybody,” Adamson said.
They both belonged to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and one of its hallmarks is leading Mass in Latin for worshippers.
Rorate Caeli, a blog widely read in Vatican circles, said Walker was born in upstate New York near Poughkeepsie. He was the middle child among a family of 11 children and was ordained in May 2012.
Associated Press writer Terry Tang contributed to this report.