Archive for Monday, June 10, 2002

Authorities search for motive in murder-suicide at Catholic abbey

June 10, 2002


— A 71-year-old man opened fire at a Roman Catholic abbey, killing two monks and seriously wounding two others before committing suicide in an abbey chapel, authorities said.

A spokeswoman for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said the diocese did not know if the shootings early Monday at Conception Abbey Benedictine monastery were related to the sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic church for months.

"We have no idea who this person is," said Rebecca Summers, diocese spokeswoman. "There appears to be no explanation as to why this happened."

The gunman was identified as Lloyd Robert Jeffress of Kearney. He opened fire at random in the halls around the business offices of the monastery about 8:40 a.m., said the Rev. Gregory Polan, abbot of the Abbey. He said the monks barred themselves in their rooms when they realized they were hearing gunshots.

Two monks were killed and two other monks were seriously wounded. Authorities later found the suspect dead, slumped over in a chapel pew. He had one self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple. Authorities also found two weapons a MAC 90, a Chinese-made replica of the AK-47, and a 22.-caliber rifle near the body. The wooden butt of the .22-caliber weapon had been removed to make it easier to handle, officials said.

The Rev. Philip Schuster, 85, of Pilot Grove, and Brother Damian Larson, 64, of Wichita, Kan., were killed. Schuster was a greeter at the monastery's front door; Larson worked as a groundskeeper.

The injured were identified as the Rev. Kenneth Reichert, 68, of Brunswick. He was shot in the stomach and was in surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Maryville. Reichert was an assistant to Abbot Polan.

The Rev. Norbert Schappler, 73, was in stable condition at Heartland Regional Medical Center. It was unclear how he was wounded. He oversees the dining room and also works as director at the printing house.

No students or faculty were on campus because the seminary had ended its academic year in mid-May.

Polan said the Abbey had received no threatening letters or phone calls to hint that the attack was imminent. Authorities were seeking his daughter for information about a motive.

Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey said officers had been sent to the suspect's home about 70 miles south of the Abbey to look for clues. They also scoured Jeffress's car for clues, but found little. A brown box in Jeffress's car had raised suspicions earlier but turned out to contain a fishing reel and some instructions for using a shooting range, Espey said.

He said it appears the monks were all shot with the AK-47, and that the suspect used a "cheap .22 rifle" to kill himself.

The suspect was dressed in blue jeans, a t-shirt and a blue baseball cap, Espey said.

"He looked like a normal, clean-cut person," he said. "But obviously he wasn't normal."

Polan said he was shown the suspect's driver's license, but did not recognize him as an employee or as anyone with a connection to the Abbey.

"There's a lot of shock and sadness," Polan said. "These were two monks whose lives have been lived here in a generous, gracious spirit."

The Conception Abbey is a Benedictine monastery and seminary. The seminary college on campus is the largest priestly training center in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph led by Bishop Raymond J. Boland. The complex also has a basilica and publishing operation.

The college lists a staff of 19 priests, eight brothers, one sister, six lay professors and a student body of 97.

The abbey is located on a 30-acre rural campus about 90 miles north of Kansas City.

Ronda Strueby, 39, a supervisor in the packaging department of the Abbey's printing house, said all employees were evacuated about 9 a.m.

"One of the monks, Brother Jeremiah, said there's a man in the monastery with a gun, and we need everyone to evacuate," she said. "We were all told to go home.

"It's just not something you think about happening especially in a religious institution."

Bishop Raymond J. Boland issued a statement saying he has gotten few details of the shooting but that he encouraged people to pray for the entire Conception community.

"We are also praying for the gunman whom, we have been led to believe, took his own life," Boland's statement said. "Whatever motivated him to orchestrate this carnage, we still know that he and his family need our prayers and our compassionate understanding."

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