A Catholic bishop in Southern California was fatally shot Saturday just blocks from a church, a killing of a longtime priest hailed as a “peacemaker” that shocked the Los Angeles religious community, authorities said.
Detectives are investigating the death of Bishop David O’Connell as a homicide, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Authorities have not said if the bishop was the target of the shooting or if his religion was a factor in the killing. The sheriff’s department would not say how or specifically where his body was discovered. The shooter, or shooters, are still at large.
O’Connell, 69, had been a priest for 45 years and was originally from Ireland, according to Angelus News, the archdiocese’s news outlet. Pope Francis had named him one of several auxiliary bishops in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the country, in 2015.
O’Connell worked in South Los Angeles for years and focused on gang intervention, Angelus News reported. He later sought to broker peace between residents and law enforcement after the violent 1992 uprising after a jury acquitted four white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a black man.
Nearly two decades later, O’Connell rallied the San Gabriel Valley community to rebuild a mission there after arson and in recent years spearheaded Catholic efforts in the region to work with immigrant children and families from Central America.
O’Connell was found in Hacienda Heights around 1 pm Saturday with a gunshot wound. Sheriff’s deputies were called to the area, a few blocks from St. John Vianney Catholic Church, which is part of the O’Connell Archdiocese, on a report of a medical emergency.
Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene, the sheriff’s department said. The archdiocese said O’Connell lived in Hacienda Heights, an unincorporated community about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of downtown Los Angeles, but it was not immediately clear if he was found at his home or elsewhere. .
Masses in churches across the region were dedicated to O’Connell on Sunday. Neighbors and parishioners left flowers and candles and prayed the rosary alongside police tape at Hacienda Heights. About 50 people prayed and sang at a vigil Sunday afternoon near a part of the neighborhood surrounded by crime scene tape.
“I’ve been crying every time I think of him for two days,” said Ramona Torres, who has been a lector at her church for more than 30 years and used to read at masses O’Connell led.
Gabriela Gil met O’Connell when she was pregnant with their youngest child after a mass at a Catholic school.
“I asked her if she would pray over my belly,” she told The Associated Press as she and her family paid their respects at the crime scene.
Gil, a mother of seven children, talked with O’Connell about her sons and daughters and their faith over the years. “She has never felt more understood by anyone in this world,” she said, adding that she originally thought she had died of a heart attack or some medical emergency.
The news of his murder stunned her: last year, O’Connell had presided over her son’s confirmation.
“I saw him in the parking lot before mass started and he was going out for a little walk, saying his rosary,” she said.
The Diocese of Cork and Ross in Ireland, where O’Connell was born, was shocked by the priest’s death. Bishop Fintan Gavin said in a statement that O’Connell “has always maintained his connection to family and friends in Cork” through frequent visits to Ireland.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff offered the agency’s condolences, saying detectives are “committed to arresting those responsible for this horrific crime.”
“He was a peacemaker and passionate about serving those in need while improving our community,” Sheriff Robert Luna said on Twitter.
Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gómez offered the archdiocese’s prayers for the family of “Bishop Dave” as well as law enforcement investigating the crime.
“He was a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and immigrants, and he was passionate about building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected,” Gomez said.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the bishop “a friend of many years” and said he was part of a prayer group with O’Connell during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This city has lost one of its most beautiful angels,” Garcetti said on Twitter on Sunday.
The violence was the latest to shake religious leaders in Los Angeles. Two Jewish men were shot and wounded last week by a gunman who authorities say attacked them because of their faith. Suspect Jaime Tran has been charged with federal hate crimes.
Source: VOA Español