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Archive for Thursday, June 29, 2000

Archbishop released after 9-hour ordeal

June 29, 2000

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— Archbishop Patrick Flores was known to help resolve problems for immigrants.

A man seeking help on a passport problem and claiming to have a hand grenade took Archbishop Patrick Flores hostage in his office for nine hours before releasing him Wednesday evening.

The Roman Catholic archbishop appeared to be unharmed as he was escorted out of his office by police and placed on a stretcher.

The suspect was led out in handcuffs.

Gabriel Trevino, a police department spokesman, said police had been negotiating with the suspect through the day, and said negotiator could hear Flores in the background while they talked to the suspect.

The archbishop's secretary, Myrtle Sanchez, also was held for about three hours but was freed unharmed.

She said the man had been holding something in his hand that she believed to be a weapon but she could not identify it, said Monsignor Larry Stuebben, who spoke to her shortly after she was released. She described the man as upset but not out of control.

"He's very frustrated by the way he's been treated, and wants the archbishop to help him," Stuebben said Sanchez told him.

The man, believed to be from El Salvador, has been in the United States about 25 years and has three children. His wife and one son were at the scene, Stuebben said. It was unknown if the man was in the United States illegally.

He entered the office about 10 a.m. local time.

Richard Yzaguirre, general manager of Catholic Television, a service run by the archdiocese, said the Spanish-speaking man, in his 30s, asked for help with a passport problem. He seemed calm and was respectful to Flores, but the man "was pretty insistent he wanted him to help him with this problem," Yzaguirre said.

"I could tell the archbishop was kind of caught off guard."

The chancery is the headquarters for the 23-county San Antonio archdiocese. Flores, 70, became the first Mexican-American Catholic bishop in the nation when he was named its auxiliary bishop.

Before Flores' release, as many as 50 law-enforcement officers FBI hostage negotiators, SWAT officers and others were at the scene as a crowd of more than 100 gathered outside the Catholic chancery in 90-degree weather and prayed. About 100 chancery employees had to be evacuated.

"Archbishop Flores is one of the prominent leaders in this city who will speak for peace. I don't know of any concerted effort to do damage to him," said Monsignor Terence Nolan, chancellor of the diocese.

David Garcia, rector of San Fernando Cathedral, said Flores, though a native Texan, is known as a friend to immigrants. He also was known to have an open-door policy.

"I can't think of a person who has more tried to help people with immigration problems than the archbishop has," Garcia said.

Kenneth Thompson, executive director of the San Antonio Community of Churches, said: "He has taken hostage the man who probably cares the most and is most willing to listen. One of his known strengths is his ability to stay quiet and to listen. He is a humble person and he is willing to sit there and listen to you."

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