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Gunman Takes Hostage in Church; Kills Self

May 22, 1990

MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A heavily armed man who was upset at renovations to a church wounded two people and barricaded himself inside the church with a hostage for seven hours Monday before killing himself.

Officers fired tear gas and stormed St. Sebastian-By-The Sea Episcopal Church at 3:15 p.m. to find the body of the man, identified by police as Douglas Pearson, 47.

Pearson was a member of a church building committee and church members said he had been upset about renovations at the church, including a plan to add trim to the church’s new copper steeple, said committee member Ted Ferris.

Joan Heller, a spokeswoman for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department, said the gunman apparently shot himself.

The hostage, Deacon George Smodell, crawled out as police stormed the church, Heller said. Smodell was in stable condition at Holmes Regional Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the leg, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The gunman also went to the red brick church Saturday night, armed and upset, Heller said. Police were called, and confiscated two assault rifles and a pistol then.

On Monday, he had a .357-caliber Magnum and .45-caliber pistol, authorities said.

The attacks began about 8:40 a.m. when Pearson’s wife called police to say: ″He’s all upset. He has guns.″

A short time later, in Melbourne Beach, a 43-year-old woman was shot twice in the abdomen at point-blank range in her home with a .45-caliber pistol, Heller said.

The woman, Diane Conarroe, was the wife of a church official, said Ted Ferris, a member of the church building committee. Pearson went to the home looking for John Conarroe, but shot his wife instead when she answered the door, Ferris said.

Mrs. Conarroe was in critical condition at Holmes Regional Medical Center, said Debbie Helton, a hospital spokeswoman.

A few minutes later, the gunman walked into an office, shot the deacon, and then ordered painter David Oraboni and a secretary to leave.

″He walked right by me,″ Oraboni said. ″I said ‘Good morning’ to him and he said ‘Good morning.’ Not more than 10 seconds later he pulled out a gun and started shooting. At first I didn’t think it was real.″

While barricaded in the church, the gunman ignored repeated calls from police negotiators using the telephone and a bullhorn, said J.D. Wilmer, a sheriff’s inspector who was one of the negotiators.

Building committee member Ferris said Pearson had been upset for about a week about restoration work on the 25-year-old church, including a plan to add trim to the copper steeple. He talked to Pearson by telephone about 7:30 a.m.

″I knew he had some grudges against some people in the church,″ Ferris said. ″He said on the phone ‘this was (his) last hurrah.’ ″ Ferris added that he thought Pearson meant the last church remodeling project.

Ferris said Pearson, who moved to Florida from Toronto about three years ago, worked in construction and design.

Melbourne Beach is on the east coast of central Florida.

The church is just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Palm Bay, where on April 24, 1987, a gunman killed six people and wounded 10 in two shopping centers. He then held a supermarket employee hostage for five hours before being captured by police officers. William Cruse, a former librarian, was convicted of the killings and sentenced to death in July 1989.

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