La Jolla

A 40-year-old La Jolla woman was shot in the back Thursday afternoon at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in La Jolla, police said.

According to police, Michelle Gallagher was shot by a transient as she was leaving the church, 7727 Girard Ave., about 1 p.m.

Police said a woman identified as Patricia Perrellis, 41, approached Gallagher to ask where a confessional was. When Gallagher answered and turned to leave, the woman shot her once in the back with a .22-caliber silver derringer, police said.

Gallagher was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital-La Jolla, where she was in fair condition Thursday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Police spokesman Bill Robinson said the bullet fragmented in Gallagher's back, apparently saving her life. If it had not, he said, her injuries could have been more serious.

As Perrellis fled, two people chased her, caught her and held her until officers arrived, police said.

Sgt. Jim Kurupas, who was at the scene, said: "We don't know why she shot at the lady. . . . They didn't know each other." Kurupas said the woman had identification cards showing three different names.

A worker at the church, who declined to be identified, said no one there heard the shooting. "It was raining outside, and I didn't hear anything," she said. One of the priests may have gone to the hospital to check on the victim, she added.

Outside the church, La Jolla residents swarmed around the entrance, shaken by the violence that penetrated the sanctity of church grounds.

"We ought to be safe in church," said Judy Pacheco, one of the witnesses.

Perrellis was being held, in lieu of $10,000 bail, in County Jail at Las Colinas on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

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