Monday, May 13, 2024

A first Holy Communion Mass in Abbeville, LA interrupted by rifle carrying teen; praise God no one hurt; Lord, have mercy on us


Louisiana parishioners confront teen who entered church with a gun during children’s Mass, police say

As the incident unfolded, a parishioner approached the altar to whisper in the ear of associate pastor Father Nicholas DuPré. 

St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church

CNN — 

A Mass celebrating a group of children’s first Communion at a church in southern Louisiana was interrupted Saturday when a 16-year-old boy armed with a gun walked in, the church and police said.

No one was injured during the incident in Abbeville at the St. Mary Magdalen Church, during which a “suspicious person” opened the back door of the building while Mass was underway, the church said in a statement.

Parishioners immediately confronted the person, took him outside and called the police, the church said in a message to its community.

Authorities, responding to a call about a suspicious person with a gun, arrived at the church and took the teen into custody, according to the Abbeville Police Department. After being questioned at the police station with a parent present, the suspect was taken to a hospital behavioral unit to be medically evaluated, police said.

The teen has been charged with “terrorizing” and two counts of possession of a firearm by a juvenile, police said.

The potentially dangerous encounter comes just a week after a man walked into Pennsylvania church service, pointed a gun at the pastor and pulled the trigger. The pastor was spared injury when the gun jammed, and the man was restrained until police arrived and placed him under arrest.

In Louisiana, video of the church service streamed online shows associate pastor Father Nicholas DuPré leading Mass when someone approached the altar and interrupted him mid-prayer to whisper in his ear.

Some parishioners in the front pews appeared concerned and turned around to look toward the back of the church, the video shows.

DuPré asked the congregation to sit and join him in repeating the Hail Mary prayer several times as a group of male parishioners moved along the center and front aisles of the church, frequently glancing toward the back of the room, the video shows.

Once the suspect was apprehended, “law enforcement entered the church to make sure there was no additional danger,” the church’s message said. “This understandably caused panic.”

The video shows parishioners began to get out of their seats, and the priest, still praying, could no longer be heard over the sound of the crowd. An armed law enforcement officer in a bulletproof vest entered the back of the sanctuary as the priest and deacon ducked behind the altar. Altar boys ran across the sanctuary one after the other.

As panic began to take hold of the crowd, someone announced over a PA system, “Just get a hold of your child. Go slowly. We did apprehend a young man. He’s in custody. … Calm down and just get next to your child and go slowly.”

“While we realize this was a frightening experience for those in attendance, we are incredibly grateful to both parishioners and police officers for acting quickly to ensure the safety of all,” the church statement said.

The church said it will have uniformed officers at all upcoming Masses “out of an abundance of cautious,” the statement said.

Abbeville Police Chief Mike Hardy extended thanks to the clergy and parishioners “for their quick response and remaining calm” throughout the ordeal.

The church said investigators are receiving assistance from the FBI. CNN has sought more information from police and the FBI.

CNN also reached out to St. Mary Magdalen Church for more information. A prayer was posted on the church’s Facebook page early Sunday morning.

“Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, heal your people’s wounds and transform brokenness into wholeness,” the post said. “Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace, to act with justice. Breathe wisdom into our prayers.  Grant that all harmed by the threat of violence may find peace in justice.”

St. Mary Magdalen Parish was established in 1842, according to the congregation’s history, and the church, along with its rectory and cemetery, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Abbeville, in Vermilion Parish, is 21 miles southwest of Lafayette.

CNN’s Rafael Romo and Yan Kaner contributed to this report

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