Slain Priest Mourned
ONALASKA, Wis. (AP) _ Tearful children sang ″Amazing Grace″ as hundreds of mourners jammed into a school gymnasium Friday in tribute to a slain priest who was ″called to go to heaven in a very difficult way.″
The Rev. John Rossiter, 64, pastor of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and two co-workers were slain Thursday by a gunman who entered the church and complained about girls reading from the Bible.
″Some are called to go heaven in a peaceful way, some are called to go to heaven in a very difficult way,″ Bishop John Paul of the La Crosse Diocese told more than 600 people gathered in the school gym of St. Patrick’s parish.
The nearby church could not be used for the service because under church rules it has been desecrated by the killings and must be re-sanctified through a special ceremony.
A man who initially gave his name as ″Elijah″ was arrested a few blocks from the church, carrying a case with a shotgun inside. Elijah was an Old Testament prophet whose mission was to destroy the worship of false gods and restore justice.
He was later identified as Bryan J. Stanley, 29. Authorities said he is to be arraigned Monday morning on three counts of first-degree murder, at the same hour that formal funeral services are planned for the victims.
Rossiter, lay minister Ferdinand L. Roth Sr., 55, and custodian William G. Hammes, 66, were killed by shotgun blasts after a man complained to the priest about two sixth-grade girls being allowed to read from the Bible at a special children’s Mass.
Some 250 children had filed out of the church, many of them hugging Rossiter as they returned to their classrooms, and Rossiter had turned to the altar to say a prayer of thanksgiving when the first shot sounded.
Two followed, apparently as Roth and Hammes rushed into the church.
″They all died in the house of the Lord,″ Paul said.
Stanley was described Friday by acquaintances as having had emotional problems and being obsessed by religious issues.
Walter Baltz, an employee of the G. Heileman Brewing Co. in nearby La Crosse, said he met Stanley in a pub. Baltz had to drive to Minneapolis and on impulse asked a group of men if any of them wanted to come along.
Stanley volunteered, and the two of them spent much of the ride talking about religious issues, Baltz recalled. He said Stanley told him he thought the Catholic Church had become too liberal in recent years.
Baltz also said Stanley at one point said he had had a mystical experience that made him see things differently than he had before.
″You scratch your head and say, ’Holy cow, was the fuse lit then?‴ Baltz said. ″Was it waiting to go off somewhere along the way?″
His family was described by neighbors as hard-working, church-going people.
″I feel sorry for the family. They’re a nice family,″ said Signa Krismer, a neighbor of Stanley’s parents.
She said Stanley’s mother, Mary, had mentioned that Bryan was having emotional problems and had been hospitalized after serving in the military.
″She always worried about him, I know,″ Mrs. Krismer said.