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Pa. Psychiatric Patient Escapes

March 28, 2002

SELLERSVILLE, Pa. (AP) _ A hospital patient escaped from a psychiatric ward, stole an ambulance and led police on a chase before he was tackled by officers in a church in full view of mourners attending a viewing, authorities said.

Joshua David Herder, 19, first visited St. Isidore’s Church on Tuesday asking to speak to ``the cardinal″ while brandishing an 18-inch knife, Quakertown Police Chief Jim McFadden said. Police arrested Herder inside the church that day and took him to Grand View Hospital’s psychiatric ward for evaluation.

On Wednesday, Herder escaped from the hospital, breaking the lock on the psychiatric ward doors and punching two hospital employees, according to an arrest affidavit.

He then allegedly stole a running ambulance and led seven police cars on a 10-minute chase through Bucks County that ended at the church in Quakertown.

Five police officers tackled Herder near the altar in St. Isidore’s, the Rev. John Wackerman said. Herder allegedly punched the police chief during the scuffle.

``These poor folks,″ said the Rev. Fred Riegler, standing near several cars bearing red ``funeral″ stickers minutes after the incident.

Riegler said Herder was a former St. Isidore’s parishioner.

McFadden said Herder brought the knife to the church Tuesday in hopes of committing ``suicide by cop.″

``He said he brought it for the purpose of being shot by police,″ McFadden said. ``He wanted to meet God.″

As police led him away from his arraignment, Herder told reporters, ``I want to become a priest. I love the Lord.″

Herder, of Sellersville, was arraigned on aggravated assault, receiving stolen property and related charges and jailed on $250,000 bail. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for April 5.