2 Phoenix priests attacked: 1 dead, another injured, police say

PHOENIX - One Phoenix priest is dead and a second injured after an attack Wednesday night in central Phoenix.

Phoenix police said Father Kenneth Walker was shot and killed. Father Joseph Terra suffered blunt force trauma and was taken to a local hospital, where he remains in critical but stable condition.

Sources tell ABC15 the scene was "gruesome." The attack occurred around 9:30 p.m., according to police.

At a Thursday morning news conference, Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia said investigators have some strong physical evidence to follow up on.

Garcia called the priest's murder "a very tragic and appalling violation."

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said the attack "strikes at the core, because every American should feel safe in a house of worship."

The attack happened at the Mother of Mercy Mission near 15th Avenue and Monroe Street, according to Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos.

Father Fred Adamson said at the news conference that Terra gave Walker his last rites as police arrived.

Chief Garcia said Terra called 911, referring to the incident as a burglary.

Authorities said the suspect took off in a vehicle belonging to one of the priests. The 2003 Mazda was located a few blocks away from the scene around 11:15 p.m., Sgt. Steve Martos said.

Throughout the morning, parishioners gathered at the church. Some laid flowers and lit candles.
 
"You don't steal from priests," said parishioner Mary Frances. "They would give you anything. They would give you their own plate filled with food. This is senseless evil. Evil does exist."
 
"We were just here celebrating Father Walker's second anniversary of his ordination," said Ted Brudnicki. 
 
Frances tells ABC15 that she has been attending the Mass there for the past two years. She comes from Scottsdale and tells us that most people come from all over. It is a unique Mass because it is one of the only in the Valley that is all done in Latin.
 
Parishioners say the two men often helped people in the neighborhood and would have opened their doors to anyone in need.

The Diocese released a statement Thursday morning asking for "prayers for both priests, the religious community, their families and the parish."

Prayer intentions, letters and gifts of condolence, and memorials for Fr. Walker’s family may be sent via the Community of St. John-Marie Vianney, according to a statement put out by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the order to which the victims belonged:

Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Walker
c/o St. John Vianney Chapel
14611B Waterman Crossing Road
Maple Hill, KS 66507

It is too soon to tell if this was a random burglary attempt or if the two priests were targeted, according to police.

Police Chief Daniel Garcia said investigators are canvassing neighborhood businesses for any surveillance video.

Detectives are also asking anyone in the community who may have seen something, no matter how small, to call police.

Authorities are continuing to search for a possible suspect(s) connected to the homicide. Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS.

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