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 into what police called a “tragic and appalling” attack.
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.
Walker has family in Maple Hill, Kansas, according to the Kansas City, Kansas, archdiocese.
Kansas First News has confirmed a Rosary has been scheduled tonight at 7.
A memorial fund has been set up at St. John Vianney Chapel in Maple Hill, Kan.
Police have no suspects at this point. They are searching the neighborhood, interviewing the injured priest and examining physical evidence from the scene. Police 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 pictures of the dead priest lay on the sidewalk.
Terra and Walker served as pastor and assistant pastor, respectively, and they both lived in the church, which is located along a gritty stretch of downtown Phoenix. The Rev. Fred Adamson, vicar general of the Phoenix Archdiocese, said both men believed the church “was a safe place to live.”
The Diocese of Phoenix released the following statement.
“We are stunned and deeply saddened to learn of the tragic assault perpetrated last night against Fr. Joseph Terra and Fr. Kenneth Walker, two religious order priests who belong to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Fr. Walker’s life was taken. Fr. Terra remains in critical condition but stable. The reported attack occurred at Mater Misericordiae Mission in Phoenix. The police are still gathering information and trying to sort through the details of this senseless act of violence. We ask that people offer prayers for both priests, the religious community, their families and the parish. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.”
“Father Terra is a pretty strong man. He’s not afraid of anybody,” Adamson said.
Police said Walker was 28 years old, while the church said he was 29.
Police found a car they were seeking in connection with the attack, Sgt. Steve Martos said. The car was empty when it was located about four blocks north of the church, he said.
Rorate Caeli, an online 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. He was ordained in May 2012.
Associated Press writer Terry Tang contributed to this report.