Just streets from a cathedral, a Catholic bishop in Southern California was shot and murdered on Saturday, shocking the Los Angeles religious community and killing a lifelong priest who had been lauded as a “peacemaker.”
Bishop David O’Connell’s death is being looked into by detectives as a possible homicide, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
A person of interest was in arrest, the sheriff’s office confirmed to CBS Los Angeles on Monday. At a news briefing on Monday afternoon, officials are anticipated to provide further information.
The bishop’s identity as a target or if his faith had a role in the killing has not been disclosed by the authorities.
Bishop David O’Connell Was a True Peacemaker
O’Connell, 69, was an Irish native who had served as a priest for 45 years, according to Angelus News, the archdiocese’s news source. In 2015, Pope Francis appointed him as one of many auxiliary bishops for the country’s biggest diocese, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
According to Angelus News, O’Connell spent years working in South Los Angeles and concentrated on gang intervention. During the bloody rebellion of 1992, when a jury convicted four white LA police officers in the beating of a Black man named Rodney King, he later tried to mediate peace between locals and the police.
O’Connell led Catholic initiatives in the area to engage with immigrant children and families from Central America in recent years. About two decades later, the community of the San Gabriel Valley came together to restore a mission there following an arson assault.
At about 1 p.m. on Saturday, O’Connell was discovered in Hacienda Heights with a gunshot wound. On hearing of a medical emergency, sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the region, just a few blocks from the O’Connell archdiocese’s St. John Vianney Catholic Church.
He was declared dead at the site by paramedics, according to the sheriff’s office. O’Connell, according to the archbishop, resided in Hacienda Heights, an unincorporated area 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
According to deputies, O’Connell was shot in his house, and his death is “mysterious,” according to CBS Los Angeles.
Bishop David O’Connell Honored by Masses
On Sunday, O’Connell was honored during masses held in congregations all across the area. Behind police tape in Hacienda Heights, neighbors, and churchgoers recited the rosary and left flowers and candles. In a vigil held on Sunday afternoon outside a section of the neighborhood that was cordoned off as a crime scene, around 50 people prayed and sang.
Ramona Torres, who has served as a lector in her church for more than 30 years and frequently read at Masses that O’Connell was leading, said, “I’ve been sobbing for two days, every time I think about him.”
At a Catholic school Mass, Gabriela Gil first met O’Connell, who was expecting her youngest child.
While she and her family paid their respects at the murder site, she told The Associated Press, “I asked him if he would pray over my tummy.”
Gil, a mother of seven, would frequently discuss her children and her beliefs with O’Connell throughout the years. She said that at first, she believed he had passed away from a heart attack or other medical issue, saying, “I’ve never ever felt more understood by anybody in this world.”
She was shocked to learn of his death because O’Connell had only presided over her son’s confirmation the previous year.
Before the Mass began, she remarked, “I saw him in the parking lot and he was just going out for a brief walk, reciting his rosary.”
Everybody is Saddened by the Death of Long-Time “Peacemaker”
The priest’s passing stunned the Irish diocese of Cork and Ross, where O’Connell was born. O’Connell “has always maintained his relationship with family and friends in Cork” through regular trips back to Ireland, according to a statement from Bishop Fintan Gavin.
The LA County sheriff expressed his sympathies on behalf of the department and stated that detectives are “determined to apprehend those accountable for this heinous act.”
Sheriff Robert Luna wrote on Twitter, “He was a peacemaker and had a heart aiding people in need while improving our town.”
My heart grieves after learning of the murder of Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell. He lovingly served as a priest and Bishop in Los Angeles County for forty-five years.
He was a peacemaker and had a passion serving those in need while improving our community.
— Robert Luna (@LACoSheriff) February 19, 2023
Saturday during Mass, Archbishop José H. Gomez remarked, “David O’Conell, our dear Auxiliary Bishop, went away suddenly. It’s shocking, and there are no adequate words to convey my sorrow “Los Angeles-based CBS said.
O’Connell “was a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant, and he had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life were honoured and protected,” according to a statement released by Archbishop Gomez and the Diocese of Los Angeles after the service.
Gomez’s statement continued, “He was also a wonderful friend, and I shall miss him deeply,” according to CBS Los Angeles.
Eric Garcetti, a former mayor of Los Angeles, referred to the bishop as “a friend of many years” and claimed to have prayed with Bishop O’Connell during the coronavirus outbreak.
Garcetti tweeted on Sunday, “Our city has lost one of its most beautiful angels.”
I’m so deeply saddened by the death of longtime peacemaker and fighter for justice, Bishop David O’Connell. He was a friend of many years and part of a prayer group that I participated in throughout the COVID pandemic. This city has lost one of its most beautiful angels.
— Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) February 19, 2023
The recent act of violence shocked Los Angeles’ religious leaders. Last week, two Jewish men were shot and injured by a shooter who officials said targeted them because of their religion. Federal hate crimes have been alleged against suspect Jaime Tran.