CHATHAM, N.J. -- An arrest in the fatal stabbing of a beloved priest has brought little solace to an affluent Roman Catholic parish in this tiny northern New Jersey community.
Authorities say longtime church janitor Jose Feliciano stabbed the Rev. Ed Hinds 32 times with a kitchen knife after an argument in the rectory of St. Patrick's Church on Thursday. Parishioners and residents said his arrest represents a second blow to the community.
The arrest Saturday came a day after the body of the 64-year-old priest was discovered in the rectory kitchen.
"It's just not believable," said parishioner Dan Langborgh, 47, who lives across the street from the church. "Jose is a very nice guy who has been around for many years. He's the last person I would have suspected."
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said Feliciano had worked at the church for 17 years. His son graduated from the church school, which runs from kindergarten through eighth grade, and his daughter is a student there.
Bianchi said investigators found the priest's cell phone, bloody clothing and bloody towels at Feliciano's home in Easton, Pa., about 45 miles west of Chatham.
Parishioner Michael Marotta, 47, said he would not have hesitated to leave his three children in the care of either Hinds or Feliciano, whom he described as caring, quiet, hardworking men. Marotta, whose 10-year-old son is enrolled at St. Patrick's School, said Feliciano lived in a home next to the church until a few years ago.
"Everyone loses in this," said Marotta, who lives down the street from the church. "The church, the broader Chatham community and the Hinds and Feliciano families. It's disheartening."
Authorities said Feliciano and another man went looking for the priest, known to parishioners as "Father Ed," after he failed to show up for 8 a.m. Mass on Friday. Bianchi said Feliciano was performing CPR on the body when officers arrived and his halfhearted attempts struck them as suspicious.
The priest, dressed in his clerical robes, had wounds on his upper torso, the back of his body and his head that were created by a kitchen knife, officials said. Hinds also had defensive wounds on his hands and face, Bianchi said. An autopsy determined the cause of death was severe trauma.
The slaying rocked the New York City bedroom community of about 10,000 residents, where the last violent death occurred in 1990. The median family income is $132,000 and authorities and residents had initially suspected that Hinds died at the hands of a needy outsider who had come to him for help.
"Everyone thought it was an outsider because Father Hinds always opened the church to the needy," Langborgh said.
Parishioners learned of Feliciano's arrest Saturday near the end of 5 p.m. Mass.
Parishioner Juliette Peros told the Star Ledger of Newark that several people cried when the announcement was made and a woman seated behind her yelled "Jose! No, Jose!"
Hinds, who was born in nearby Morristown, had been the church pastor since 2003. He was also a regular sight in the neighborhood, where he walked Copper, his cocker spaniel.
"It's so sad," said parishioner Pat Patello, 52. "I don't think this town will ever get over this."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times