Help police identify man who attacked priest during confession

Help police identify man who attacked priest during confession

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Rocky River Police are searching for a man who recently assaulted a priest at gunpoint during confession at St. Christopher Catholic Church.

Officers said the assault happened during the late afternoon hours of Saturday, June 11.

During confession, the man brandished a handgun and assaulted the priest, who reported the incident to Rocky River Police immediately.

"I've never done confession with someone pointing a gun at me the whole time," said the priest on a 911 call released by the Rocky River Police Department. "Did he threaten you with a gun?" asked the dispatcher. "He just had it pointed at me the whole time. He didn't say, 'I'm going to kill you.' He didn't say, 'I'm going to shoot you.' He just had it," said the priest.

The suspect was not located after the attack and an investigation is underway.

Authorities said the victim was treated at a local hospital for injuries he sustained. He was released and the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland said the priest returned to his ministerial duties.

The suspect is described as a white man, likely in his late 20s, with pale skin and jet black, shoulder-length hair parted in the center.

His hair color is described as unnatural and likely dyed.

At the time of the June 11 assault the suspect was wearing black skinny jeans and black canvas shoes with white trim. Police also said the suspect had a nose ring and a tattoo on the inside of his left forearm of a cross that flared at each end.

The handgun brandished was described as a small, likely a semi-automatic pistol.

"Nothing is private. Nothing is sacred anymore," said Rocky River resident Ann McCartney. "To go to a private sanctuary for confession, I kind of wonder what he was confessing."

Police said they got more than 20 leads over the weekend after releasing the sketch of the suspect.

Down the road from St. Christopher Catholic Church, Century Cycles owner Scott Cowan called the assault appalling.

"I was stunned when I saw the news because Rocky River is quite a safe place. We've been here 20 years and rarely does that kind of thing happen so close to home," Cowan said.

Officers advise that clergy at churches in the Cleveland Metropolitan area pay special attention for anyone matching the description of suspect and notify local police immediately if anyone matching the description is seen.

Clergy and other church members are also warned to be aware of their personal safety and practical crime prevention methods.

The diocese is working with law enforcement agencies in the investigation.

The Cleveland Diocese released a statement that reads: "Recently, a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland was assaulted at gunpoint while in the parish confessional. The diocese is working with all law enforcement agencies in the investigation of this crime. We ask that the privacy of the victim and parish be respected. We also ask for prayers for the victim and the parish."

Anyone with information should contact the Rocky River Police, Det. Garth Selong (440-799-8352) or Lt Bill Crates at 440-331-1234, ext. 2153.

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