June 13, 2002


Shooter seen as bitter over divorce

(St. Joseph News-Press) Lloyd Jeffress was angry with the Catholic Church. “He was very bitter toward the church because of a divorce years ago,” said Sgt. Sheldon Lyon of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “We believe that’s a good possibility of why he committed these acts.”

The 71-year-old Kearney, Mo., man killed two monks and injured two others before shooting himself in the Conception Abbey sanctuary Monday.

Investigators had been struggling to find a motive for the slayings until family members indicated he harbored the grudge.

“This is the only area where he had any bad feelings toward the church,” Mr. Lyon said.

Mr. Jeffress became a Catholic when he married Della Steward of Richmond, Mo., in 1954. They were divorced five years later.

The marriage was annulled by the church in 1979, which led to his resentment of the religion.

But law-enforcement officials, who expect to complete the investigation early next week, still don’t know why Mr. Jeffress drove more than 90 minutes and targeted the abbey.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Mr. Lyon said. “We don’t know if we’ll ever know.”

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and abbey officials have checked their records and found no connection to Mr. Jeffress.

“The shootings were very random,” Mr. Lyon said. “He shot the first man he saw.”

Brother Damian Larson, 64, the abbey groundskeeper, was wearing bib overalls, not the traditional robe, when he was killed. Mr. Jeffress proceeded to shoot the Rev. Kenneth Reichert, 68, and the Rev. Norbert Schappler, 73, in the monastery. He also fatally wounded the Rev. Philip Schuster, 85, before turning the gun on himself in the second-to-last pew in the basilica.

Investigators found three phone numbers — his own, his estranged brother’s and his apartment manager’s — on Mr. Jeffress’ body.

A search of his senior-housing apartment in Kearney netted the anti-depressant medication Prozac. Mr. Lyon said it was unclear if Mr. Jeffress had recently used the medication. Toxicology tests will reveal if any drugs or alcohol were in his system at the time of the murders.

“We’re not condemning him,” said the Rev. Hugh Tasch. “We can presume he was ill and are sympathetic to his problems.”

The Benedictine monks have offered to participate in Mr. Jeffress’ funeral service.

“Every human being is a person of God,” said Rebecca Summers, diocese spokeswoman. “So to pray for him and his family seems very natural in our faith.”

Funeral services for Brother Damian and the Rev. Schuster will be at 11 a.m. Friday.

Dan Madden, abbey spokesman, said several monks have visited the survivors of the shooting, the Rev. Schappler and the Rev. Reichert, in local hospitals.

“Their spirits are pretty good now,” he said. “Of course, they’re in a lot of pain, but they’re both recovering and doing fine.”

The Rev. Schappler was upgraded from serious condition to fair condition Wednesday morning at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph after being shot in his groin and leg. And the Rev. Reichert was listed in fair condition at Maryville’s St. Francis Hospital on Wednesday. He was shot in the abdomen, right hand and right leg.

The injured monks don’t know when they’ll be able to return to the monastery, but aren’t expected to be released in time for tonight’s wake at 7 or Friday’s funeral Mass, Mr. Madden said.

June 13, 2002
Shooter seen as bitter over divorce
kristib@npgco.com and lindseyc@npgco.com