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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Just as the St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church choir began its final hymn, a man vaulted over pews and lashed out at the singers, sending several churchgoers to the hospital with stab wounds, authorities said.
Worshippers screamed as the shocking and chaotic scene unfolded Sunday with the attacker continuing the onslaught until he was tackled and held by church members for officers, who raced to the scene, police said.
Four parishioners were injured, including church choir director Adam Alvarez and flutist Gerald Madrid, police spokesman Robert Gibbs said. All four were treated at hospitals and listed in stable condition.
Three other church members also were evaluated by Albuquerque Fire Department on scene and didn’t go to the hospital, investigators said.
Police identified the suspect as Lawrence Capener, 24. He was charged late Sunday on three counts with aggravated battery and ordered held on $75,000 bail.
Court records do not list an attorney for Capener.
It was not immediately known what sparked the bizarre attack at the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass on the city’s west side.
St. Jude Thaddeus’ pastor, the Rev. John Daniel, said Capener’s mother was “very active” in the parish and serves as a Eucharistic minister there.
“He was here occasionally but not very often,” Daniel said.
Daniel said that Capener had just graduated from a community college and appeared to be doing well after getting a job.
An off-duty firefighter and others at the church held Capener down until police arrived.
Madrid told KOB-TV that he tried to stop Capener by wrapping his arms around him but was stabbed in the neck and back.
“I bear-hugged him. We were chest on chest. I was wrapping about to take him down to ground, but I didn’t have his arms. I had just my arms around his chest, so his arms were free. So that’s when he started stabbing me,” he said.
Madrid said he thought the suspect was punching him. It wasn’t until other parishioners rushed the man that Madrid realized he had been stabbed five times.
The choir’s pianist, Brenda Baca King, told KRQE-TV that the attacker was looking at the lead soloist. “I just remember seeing him hurdle over the pews, hurdle over people and run (toward) us and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is not good,’” Baca King said.
Daniel said he didn’t see the attack because he had turned his back away from the congregation in order to return the sacrament in the tabernacle.
Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan released a statement Sunday afternoon saying he was saddened by the attack.
“This is the first time in my 30 years serving as archbishop in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and as bishop of Lubbock, that anything like this has occurred,” Sheehan said. “I pray for all who have been harmed, their families, the parishioners and that nothing like this will ever happen again,” Sheehan said.
Daniel said Mass schedule has resumed at the church. A Mass is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the 3,000 member church, he said.