The rectory at the Mater Misericordiae Mission, a Roman Catholic Church serving those who celebrate the Mass in Latin, was closed for the night Wednesday. The pastor and his young assistant believed that their home was safe and did not have special security at the church site in a less-developed part of downtown Phoenix.
Then, at 9:30 p.m., an incomprehensible attack took place, police said. An assailant or assailants entered the building and shots were fired. Father Kenneth Walker, 28, died later from gunshot wounds. Father Joseph Terra, 56, the pastor, was not shot, but was assaulted and remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition Thursday.
Badly injured, Terra was still able to fulfill his dying colleague’s spiritual needs by administering the sacrament of Annointing of the Sick, formerly known as Last Rites, the Rev. Fred Adamson, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said at a televised news conference Thursday.
“They were there for four years and felt it was a safe place to live,” Adamson told reporters, saying that he was unaware of any concerns or special security precautions taken by Terra. “If someone came and asked for anything, he would give them the shirt off of his back.”
Terra managed to call police, who quickly responded.
“This was a very tragic and appalling criminal violation,” Police Chief Daniel Garcia told reporters. Investigators have gathered physical evidence and are seeking witnesses. The motive is not known.
“The tragedy that occurred last night strikes at our core,” Mayor Greg Stanton said. “Our city has lost a young priest. A pastor who has served our community for many years was injured. This entire city ... we stand with the Mother of Mercy Mission and the entire Diocese of Phoenix in prayer.”
The priests belong to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which celebrates the Mass in Latin and draws worshipers from all over the city. On Thursday, television reports showed a dozen parishioners kneeling on the sidewalk across the street and praying for their lost and injured clergy. Flowers and pictures of Walker, the dead priest, lay on the sidewalk.
Walker was ordained about two years ago, Adamson said. “He was known to be a man of prayer, a simple man,” he said.
When police arrived, they rushed the priests to a hospital.
Authorities also saw that a garage door was open and that one of the cars, a 2003 Mazda, had been taken. It was recovered about four blocks away. The rectory and car were being examined, said Garcia, who would not elaborate on what physical evidence had been collected. Investigators were also seeking surveillance tapes from the area.
The original call said there was a robbery, but Garcia said it was too early in the investigation for police to confirm that was the reason for the break-in.
“At this point, we’re not ruling out anything,” Garcia said.