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June 13, 2014

Police: Priests attacked at Phoenix church, 1 killed, 1 injured

PHOENIX — A priest was shot and killed and another was injured at a Roman Catholic church in downtown Phoenix, setting off an intense search for suspects and clues.

The surviving priest called 911 to report a burglary at the Mother of Mercy Mission near the state Capitol around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and administered last rites to the wounded clergyman while waiting for police to arrive. The Rev. Kenneth Walker died at the hospital, and the Rev. Joseph Terra, 56, is hospitalized in critical condition with unspecified injuries.

Police have no suspects at this point. They are searching the neighborhood, interviewing the injured priest and examining physical evidence from the scene. Investigators said they are unsure how many attackers were involved and if robbery was the motive.

Police Chief Daniel Garcia called it a “tragic and appalling criminal violation.”

As police investigated the crime scene at the church, about a dozen parishioners gathered across the street, kneeling on the sidewalk and saying the Lord’s Prayer in response to the loss of their beloved clergyman. A bouquet of flowers and a photograph of the dead priest lay on the sidewalk.

Parishioner Diane Harmon sobbed as she spoke of Walker and Terra and the “senseless acts of cruelty” that were carried out.

“They will be truly missed in this parish. Very peaceful people, very peaceful men, loving, kind and charitable,” Harmon said.

“They are truly concerned about the sanctity of souls, and saving souls,” she added. “It’s hard to imagine, but that’s unfortunately the society we’re living in, a godless society. It’s lawless.”

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said the city was shocked and saddened as police pleaded for the public’s help in identifying the suspects.

“The tragedy that occurred last night at the Mother of Mercy Mission church strikes at our core because every American should feel safe in a house of worship — and that basic value was violated last night in an unspeakable way,” Stanton said.

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