Search for motive continues as monastery remains under tight security — (Associated Press)

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The Associated Press


6/11/02 10:49 AM

CONCEPTION, Mo. (AP) — A Roman Catholic abbey erupted in gunfire as a 71-year-old man wielding two assault weapons killed two monks and wounded two others before committing suicide, leaving stunned residents wondering about a motive.

Interviews with relatives and neighbors of Lloyd Robert Jeffress yielded no clues as to why the retiree packed two rifles in separate boxes, drove his green Chevrolet Cavalier to far northwest Missouri on Monday and then opened fire in the hallway of the Conception Abbey, officials said.
Investigators, who were digging into Jeffress’s background, including his religious past, said he did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and had no known criminal history.

“So far we’ve found nothing at all,” Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Sheldon Lyon said. “This is the million-dollar mystery man.”  Investigators found a bottle of anti-depression medication at Jeffress’s home, but it wasn’t known when it was prescribed or whether he had been taking it. Lyon did not identify the medication.

Autopsies on Jeffress and both victims were under way Tuesday.
There was no indication the attack was linked to the recent church abuse scandal in which priests around the country have been accused of molesting youngsters, authorities said.
Grief-stricken residents in Conception, about 90 miles north of Kansas City, offered prayer, food and flowers to those at the Benedictine monastery and seminary. The doors of the Conception Abbey were locked for the first time in recent memory overnight and a highway patrolman stood guard.
The Rev. Gregory Polan, abbot of the abbey, said he mistook the first shot as a window breaking. The monks and staff barricaded themselves in their rooms when they realized shots were being fired.
“The whole thing lasted about five minutes, maybe even less,” Polan said.
Jeffress, clad in blue work pants and a blue baseball cap, never uttered a word as he fired seven shots from a Chinese-made replica of an AK-47, Lyon said. He fired a single, fatal shot from a Ruger .22-caliber rifle into his own temple. His body was found slumped over in a chapel pew with the two guns nearby, Lyon said.
The Rev. Philip Schuster, 85, of Pilot Grove, and Brother Damian Larson, 64, of Wichita, Kan., were killed. Schuster was a greeter at the monastery’s front door; Larson worked as a groundskeeper.
Investigators interviewed Jeffress’s daughter in Norborne late Monday but gained no insight into a possible motive, Lyon said.
Polan said the worst trouble the monks — who lead a simple life of work and prayer – had faced until Monday was a few dollars missing from an outdoor collection box.
Jeffress, of Kearney, about 15 miles northeast of Kansas City, walked into the basilica early Monday, put the two boxes on the table and pulled out the rifles. The wooden butt of the .22-caliber rifle had been removed to make it easier to handle, Lyon said.
Jeffress then went into the monastery in an adjacent building and walked down the hallways until he met Larson, whom he shot twice. A secretary who looked out from an office and saw Jeffress point the firearm at Larson escaped with another person, Lyon said.
The Rev. Kenneth Reichert, 68, of Brunswick, and the Rev. Norbert Schappler, 73, of Atchison, Kan., were shot after they peeked out of another office to see what had happened. The gunman went into the room and shot Schappler again. Schappler dragged himself to a phone and called 911, Lyon said.
Jeffress tried another office door, but the monk had locked it before hiding.
Jeffress then retraced his original route to the basilica, came across Schuster and shot him twice, at least once in the head.
Reichert, an assistant to Polan, was shot in the stomach and was in serious condition after surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Maryville. Schappler, who oversees the abbey’s dining room and works as a director at the abbey’s printing house, was in stable condition at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph.
“This has always been a place of welcome,” Polan said. “We treat everyone as if she or he is Christ. For 1,500 years, Benedictine monks have welcomed people in that spirit. And we won’t change.”
While the shootings were tragic, Polan said those who lead a monastic life do not fear death.
Instead, monks and workers were recalling happier times with Larson and Schuster, who had been at the abbey more than 30 years.
Larson’s passion was meteorology. He regularly forecast the town’s weather and often drew cartoons for a local newspaper.
“When the media folk make a weather prediction, the locals go see our website to see what Brother Larson has to say,” said Dan Madden, spokesman for the abbey, who once stood in pouring rain with Larson and watched a tornado form overhead.
Schuster often was the first person visitors saw when they arrived at the abbey. “He was a very wise man,” Madden said.
In a story that appeared in the spring edition of abbey’s publication, “Tower Topics,” Schuster talked about sitting with a dying priest.
“I know that when I die, someone will pray for me,” he said.