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Texas Archbishop Taken Hostage

June 28, 2000

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ A man seeking help on a passport problem and claiming to have a hand grenade took Archbishop Patrick Flores hostage Wednesday in his office.

Eight hours later, the Roman Catholic archbishop was still being held. Hostage negotiators were at the scene along with 40 to 50 police officers, bomb squad personnel and the FBI.

The archbishop’s secretary, Myrtle Sanchez, was freed unharmed after about three hours. The rest of the chancery building, which has up to 100 employees, was evacuated.

``We haven’t confirmed that he has a grenade,″ said Gabriel Trevino, a police department spokesman. ``He’s saying that he has one. It’s been reported that he has one. Whether or not, it’s live and real, we don’t know, but obviously we’re treating it like it is.″

Trevino said police have been negotiating with the man, but he would not discuss his demands. ``We don’t want to compromise what’s going on with the negotiations.″

Negotiators ``can hear (Flores) in the background″ while talking to the suspect. ``He seems to be fine,″ Trevino said.

The secretary who was freed said the man was holding something in his hand that she believed to be a weapon but she could not identify it, said Monsignor Larry Stuebben, who spoke to her shortly after she was released. She described the man as upset but not out of control.

``He’s very frustrated by the way he’s been treated, and wants the archbishop to help him,″ Stuebben said Sanchez told him.

The man is believed to be from El Salvador, has been in the United States about 25 years and has three children. His wife and one son were at the scene, Stuebben said. It was unknown if the man was in the United States illegally.

He entered the office about 10 a.m. local time.

Richard Yzaguirre, general manager of Catholic Television, a service run by the archdiocese, said the Spanish-speaking man, in his 30s, asked for help with a passport problem. He seemed calm and was respectful to Flores, but the man ``was pretty insistent he wanted him to help him with this problem,″ Yzaguirre said.

``I could tell the archbishop was kind of caught off guard.″

The chancery is the headquarters for the 23-county San Antonio archdiocese. Flores, 70, became the first Mexican-American Catholic bishop in the nation when he was named its auxiliary bishop.

Monsignor Terence Nolan, chancellor of the diocese, said he was unaware of any recent threats against Flores.

``Archbishop Flores is one of the prominent leaders in this city who will speak for peace. I don’t know of any concerted effort to do damage to him,″ Nolan said.

About 100 people gathered outside chancery offices, praying out loud and holding rosary beads and pictures of Jesus.

Sister Janet Abbacchi, a nun with an office on the second floor, said the bishop has an open-door policy.

``A bishop is a shepherd of his people and he is a shepherd,″ she said. ``We have no reason to think that anyone would bring harm to him.″

David Garcia, rector of San Fernando Cathedral, said Flores, though a native Texan, is known as a friend to immigrants.

``I can’t think of a person who has more tried to help people with immigration problems than the archbishop has,″ Garcia said.

Kenneth Thompson, executive director of the San Antonio Community of Churches, said: ``He has taken hostage the man who probably cares the most and is most willing to listen. One of his known strengths is his ability to stay quiet and to listen. He is a humble person and he is willing to sit there and listen to you.″

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