Archbishop Unharmed After Standoff
SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ An unemployed man from El Salvador took the state’s top-ranking Roman Catholic clergyman hostage because he believed the archbishop could help him with several matters involving the federal government, a woman held hostage with him said.
The suspect held Archbishop Patrick Flores hostage Wednesday because ``he knew he would help him because he had a lot of power,″ said Myrtle Sanchez, Flores’ secretary, said Thursday.
Nelson Antonio Escolero, 40, who has been living in the United States legally for many years but is not a citizen, was in custody after a nine-hour standoff that ended Wednesday evening when Flores was released unharmed. Sanchez was also held captive at first, but she was released after about three hours.
Escolero was charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping and was being held at the Bexar County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond.
The grenade-like device used to threaten Flores turned out to be fake, its ``pin″ a paper clip, police said Thursday.
The archbishop was released from a hospital Thursday afternoon after being held for observation overnight. Church officials said he was recovering well.
Police said Escolero was upset with the federal government over his possible deportation for driving with a suspended license. During negotiations with police, Escolero also complained about his unemployment and even Wednesday’s departure of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba.
``I don’t think he really knew what he wanted,″ Police Chief Al Philippus said.
Flores, 70, was named auxiliary bishop in 1970, becoming the first Mexican-American Catholic bishop in the country. He became archbishop in 1979.
His Spanish-language skills and background as a struggling Mexican-American in south Texas have made for close ties between Flores and many of the 1 million Roman Catholics in his largely Hispanic archdiocese covering 23 counties.
During the standoff, Escolero demanded copies of documents that showed why he might be deported. Within minutes of receiving them by fax Wednesday night, he allowed Flores to walk out of the chancery.
``Obviously, we’re very pleased with the outcome of this,″ Philippus said. ``God came down and really smiled on us and wrapped his arms around the situation.″
Police said Escolero does not have a record of violence but has been convicted in the past of possession of marijuana, burglary of a vehicle and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
The archbishop’s secretary, Myrtle Sanchez, also was held for about three hours but was freed unharmed.
She said the man was holding something in his hand that she believed to be a weapon, Monsignor Larry Stuebben said. She described the man, who entered the office at 10 a.m. Wednesday, as upset but not out of control.
Philippus said Escolero pushed Flores down early in the day, the only physical contact between the two. He said Escolero repeatedly told negotiators he did not want to hurt the archbishop.
Flores often has been in the middle of controversy, publicly protesting against abortion or art he chastises as sexually explicit or sacrilegious. He’s endured allegations of sexual misconduct lodged against priests in his district and opposition to archdiocese plans to renovate or expand aging churches.
He’s also been in the spotlight for campaigning against violence and on behalf of improving children’s lives.
Flores unveiled red and white ``no guns″ signs in early 1996 _ as the state’s concealed handgun law went into effect _ warning in English and Spanish that weapons were not permitted on church property.
In 1987, a highlight of Flores’ career occurred when he played host to Pope John Paul II during the pope’s visit to San Antonio. The pope was Flores’ house guest in his apartment on the Catholic chancery grounds.
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