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 four 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 being 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 24-year-old Lawrence Capener.
It was not immediately known what sparked the bizarre attack at the 11 a.m. Mass on the city’s Westside. Investigators don’t yet know whether Capener had ties to the victims or whether he regularly attended the church, Gibbs said.
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 placing him in a bear hug 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.
Capener was questioned by police and faced several felony charges, Gibbs said.
It’s not yet known whether Capener has an attorney.
The church didn’t return calls by The Associated Press seeking comment, but in a brief interview outside the church about 5 p.m., after having spent time with police investigators, the Rev. John C. Daniel, who was celebrating the Mass, told The Albuquerque Journal that the stabbing was “random.”
He said he had seen Capener in the church before but did not recognize him as a regular parishioner.
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.