CONCEPTION, Mo – Every day, the Rev. Kenneth Reichert is reminded of the deadly rampage a year ago that shattered the serenity of his northwest Missouri abbey. He recalls the bloodshed whenever he uses his hands _ the tip of one finger is missing. His mind goes back to that day whenever he puts on the brace that stabilizes his right leg. “I can’t even take a shower without being reminded because of the scars on my body,” he said. “I can’t even walk down the hall without remembering.”
For reasons that still aren’t clear, police say 71-year-old retiree Lloyd Robert Jeffress opened fire in the hallways of Conception Abbey the morning of June 10, 2002. Two monks were killed and Reichert and another priest were severely wounded before Jeffress killed himself. A year after the shootings, no security measures have been added to the Roman Catholic abbey and seminary. The doors to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the adjoining monastery remain unlocked during the day.
“We didn’t want to change our lives because of one incident,” said the Rev. Gregory Polan, who oversees the abbey, 90 miles north of Kansas City. Police say the shooting appeared to be random. Jeffress had no connections to the abbey or the two slain men, Damian Larson, 62, of Wichita, Kan., and the Rev. Philip Schuster, 84, of Pilot Grove.
A criminal investigation revealed one possible motive _ Jeffress was bitter following a 1959 divorce and an annulment granted by the Catholic church 20 years later. He also was in poor health. Investigators weren’t able to discover much else about Jeffress.
“This guy was reclusive. He had no contact with friends and little contact with family,” said Sgt. Sheldon Lyon, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Witnesses say Jeffress arrived at the abbey around 8:35 a.m., walked into the basilica and pulled out a semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifle and a .22-caliber rifle. He then opened a door marked “private,” walked down a hallway until he met and shot Larson.
Reichert was in the monastery’s coffee room when he heard what he said sounded like a small explosion. Moments later, he heard another bang.
The Rev. Norbert Schappler also heard the commotion and emerged from a connected room to join Reichert. The two opened the door leading to the hallway to investigate.
“A gentleman was standing across the hall _ he didn’t say a word. There was no expression on his face. He had a gun in each hand. He raised one and starting shooting,” Reichert said. Schappler was hit in his upper thigh. Another bullet pierced Reichert’s side, leaving a gapping hole. Reichert also was shot in his right leg. Both men fell backward into the room.
Rather than pursue his victims, Jeffress retraced his steps. On the way out, he came across Schuster and shot him in the chest, then in the head. Jeffress went back into the basilica, sat on a pew and put the .22-caliber rifle beneath his chin and shot and killed himself.
Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey realized the gravity of the situation when he raced into the abbey and saw the shell casing of the high-powered rifle littering the hall. “I told the guys that were with me, ‘Fellas, our (bullet proof) vests are no good. If he shoots, we all shoot back,'” Espey recalled. “And we have the best vests that are out there. We were outgunned that day.”
As a result, Espey said the sheriff’s department has bought new weapons _ AR-15 semiautomatic rifles _ capable of matching what Jeffress had last June. “We’re better prepared now than we were then,” said Espey.
Abbey monks showed forgiveness almost immediately. They offered to help with Jeffress’ funeral and burial. Jeffress’ family declined the assistance.
Jeffress’ motivation for the shootings still haunts Reichert, but he tries to focus on forgiveness. “I try hard to forgive, and I think I have forgiven,” said Reichert, 69, of Brunswick. “I have to consciously do that every day. I don’t expect to ever forget.”
A year later, peace is restored at the abbey. Silence yields to the occasional passing vehicle, chirping birds and the clanging of abbey bells calling monks to Mass. Polan finds solace in the positive happenings at the abbey since the shootings. Enrollment is up at the seminary, and the number of monks joining the monastery also is on the rise, he said. “It is really a paradox of life,” Polan said. “Out of death and suffering comes new life.”
Monastery Recalls Shooting One Year Later
One Year Later, A Missouri Monastery Lives With The Legacy Of Violent Day
June 10, 2003