A Catholic bishop in southern California who was hailed as a “peacemaker” was shot and killed on Saturday blocks away from a church, stunning the Los Angeles religious community.
Detectives were investigating the death of Bishop David O’Connell as a homicide, the Los Angeles county sheriff’s department said.
Authorities did not say if the bishop was targeted. The sheriff’s department would not say how or where his body was found. The suspect, or suspects, remained at-large.
O’Connell, 69, was a priest for 45 years and a native of Ireland, according to Angelus News, the archdiocese news outlet.
Pope Francis named him one of several auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the US, in 2015.
O’Connell worked in South Los Angeles for years and focused on gang intervention, Angelus News said. He sought to broker peace between residents and law enforcement following 1992 violence after a jury acquitted four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a Black man. Nearly two decades later, O’Connell brought the San Gabriel Valley together to rebuild a mission after an arson attack.
O’Connell was found in Hacienda Heights around 1pm on Saturday with a gunshot wound. Sheriff’s deputies were called to the area, blocks from the St John Vianney Catholic Church, part of O’Connell’s archdiocese.
Paramedics pronounced O’Connell dead at the scene, the sheriff’s department said. The archdiocese said O’Connell lived in Hacienda Heights but it was not immediately clear if he was found at his home or elsewhere.
Masses across the region were dedicated to O’Connell. Neighbours and parishioners left flowers and candles and prayed the rosary next to police tape.
“I’ve been crying for two days, every time I think of him,” said Ramona Torres, a lector in her church for more than 30 years who would often read at Masses O’Connell conducted.
Gabriela Gil first met O’Connell when she was pregnant with her youngest child.
“I asked him if he would pray over my belly,” she said as she and her family paid their respects. A mother of seven, Gil would talk to O’Connell about her children and her faith.
“I’ve never ever felt more understood by anyone in this world,” she said, adding that she first thought he had died of a heart attack or some medical emergency. News of his killing stunned her.
“I saw him in the parking lot before the Mass started and he was just going out for a little walk, praying his rosary,” she said.
The Diocese of Cork and Ross in Ireland, where O’Connell was born, expressed its shock.
“Since his ordination in 1979 Bishop David has served as a priest in LA but has always maintained his connection with family and friends in Cork where has been a regular visitor,” Bishop Fintan Gavin said. “We pray that the Lord will console Bishop David’s many friends in Cork and throughout Ireland.”
The LA sheriff offered condolences, saying detectives were “committed to arresting those responsible for this horrible crime”.
“He was a peacemaker and had a passion serving those in need while improving our community,” Sheriff Robert Luna said.
The Los Angeles Archbishop, José H Gomez, offered prayers for O’Connell’s family as well as law enforcement.
“Bishop Dave was a man of deep prayer who had a great love for Our Blessed Mother,” he said. “He was a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant, and he had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honoured and protected.”
Hacienda Heights is an unincorporated community about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. The violence was the latest to rock religious leaders in LA. Two Jewish men were shot and wounded last week by a gunman who authorities said targeted them for their faith. The suspect was charged with federal hate crimes.
(AP; Picture Courtesy: AFP)