June 11, 2002


Gunman Kills 2 Monks, Wounds 2 at Missouri Abbey

Rebecca Summers, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which includes Conception, said church authorities had no reason to think the shootings were related to the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Catholic Church.

Gunman Kills 2 Monks, Wounds 2 at Missouri Abbey

(Washington Post) A man armed with two rifles opened fire inside a Benedictine monastery in rural Missouri today, killing two monks and seriously wounding two others before he killed himself.

Authorities said the random shooting rampage at Conception Abbey began about 8:20 a.m. (CDT). The gunman was identified by the sheriff’s office as Lloyd Robert Jeffress, 71, of Kearney, about 15 miles northeast of Kansas City. His body was found later in the monastery chapel along with an AK-47 assault rifle and a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle.

“We can’t come up with any motive,” said Dan Madden, director of communications for the abbey. Jeffress left no note in the green sedan he drove to the abbey or in his apartment in a senior citizens residential center in Kearney, police said.

“Nobody can come up with a connection at all” between Jeffress and the monks or the abbey, said Madden. “We showed his picture around, and nobody knows him. . . . We have no idea who he is.”

A search of the abbey’s database, listing visitors, students, donors and their relatives dating to 1886, found no trace of Jeffress, said Tim Stranski, who combed the database today. “This guy is not showing up on the radar screen anywhere.”

Neighbors of Jeffress said he had no visitors and rarely spoke to them beyond pleasantries. Police said Jeffress was estranged from his family.

Rebecca Summers, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which includes Conception, said church authorities had no reason to think the shootings were related to the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Catholic Church.

“He basically shot anyone he came in contact with,” said Madden.

The first to die was Brother Damian Larson, 64, who was shot in a hallway on the abbey’s first floor. When the Rev. Kenneth Reichert, 68, and the Rev. Norbert Schappler, 76, emerged from the refectory, or dining room, to investigate the gunfire, they were wounded. A short time later, the Rev. Philip Schuster, 85, was gunned down in another hallway.

Reichert was in stable condition tonight after undergoing surgery for wounds to the abdomen, right leg and right hand. Schappler was also in stable condition.

Police said Jeffress’s vehicle, containing a suspicious package, was found on the abbey grounds. Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and members of the Olathe, Kan., fire department examined the package and determined that it did not hold explosives or anything else dangerous.

The abbey is on a 30-acre campus in northwest Missouri that also includes the Conception Seminary College. Summers said about 90 students from 22 dioceses in the United States attend the seminary, but that most of the students were away for the summer.

Madden said 65 monks, including priests and religious brothers, live at the abbey and that about 30 were here today. There is also an administrative staff at the seminary and other workers at the campus building where religious greeting cards are printed.

In a statement, Bishop Raymond J. Boland of Kansas City-St. Joseph called for prayers for the victims of “the terrible tragedy which shattered the monastic peace of the abbey some hours ago.”

The Rev. Duane Reinert, director of counseling services at the seminary, said he was at his friary home in Lawrence, Kan., about 90 miles away, when he learned of the shooting from another Benedictine.

“It was like getting kicked in the gut because I work there and know all the monks,” he said.

Reinert described the abbey as an unlikely setting for violence. “It’s a very serene and pastoral area, very quiet and picturesque,” he said.

Madden said Larson was the abbey’s groundskeeper, as well as a weather aficionado who wrote a weather column for the local newspaper and had a weather page on the abbey’s Web site, www.conceptionabbey.org.

Reinert said Schuster “had a reputation for being quite holy. Just the way he lived his monastic life — he spent a lot of time in prayer and was faithful to the ‘hours of liturgy’ and spent a lot of time in private prayer. The monks who lived there would seek him out for spiritual guidance.”

Schappler, one of the injured monks, was semi-retired as the head of the abbey’s printery house. He is also the “refectorian,” who set up dishes for meals in the refectory, where the monks ate, Reinert said.

The other injured monk, Reichert, is the prior of the monastery, second in command to the abbot and in charge of day-to-day operations when the abbot is gone, Reinert said. “He’s a very warm man, he’s popular among the seminarians,” he said.

Reinert said he was still reeling from the day’s events and spent part of the day in prayer and reflection. He was waiting to be called back to the monastery to counsel other monks who survived the shooting.

“It’s just tragic. I don’t know what to think about it, actually,” he said. “It’s so senseless to try and make any sense of the whys and the wherefores… It will be a shock when students return to campus. It will be different.”

Romano reported from Conception, Gowen from Washington. Staff writer Edward Walsh contributed to this report.

The Washington Post
June 11, 2002
Gunman Kills 2 Monks, Wounds 2 at Missouri Abbey; Killer, 71, Commits Suicide in Chapel After Rampage; Motive Still Unknown
Lois Romano and Annie Gowen, Washington Post Staff Writers