San Francisco Chronicle

Detectives treating L.A. bishop’s death as homicide

- By Stefanie Dazio

LOS ANGELES — A Roman Catholic bishop in Southern California was shot and killed Saturday just blocks from a church, a slaying of a longtime priest hailed as a “peacemaker” that’s stunned the Los Angeles religious community, authoritie­s said.

Detectives are investigat­ing the death of Bishop David O’Connell as a homicide, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department.

Authoritie­s have not said whether the bishop was targeted in the shooting or if his religion was a factor in the killing. The sheriff’s department would not say how or specifical­ly where his body was discovered. The shooter — or shooters — remain at large.

O’Connell, 69, had been a priest for 45 years and was a native of Ireland, according to Angelus News, the archdioces­e’s news outlet. Pope Francis had named him one of several auxiliary bishops of the Archdioces­e of Los Angeles — the largest in the country — in 2015.

O’Connell worked in South Los Angeles for years and focused on gang interventi­on, Angelus News reported. He later sought to broker peace between residents and law enforcemen­t following the violent 1992 uprising after a jury acquitted four white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a Black man. Nearly two decades later, he brought the San Gabriel Valley community together to rebuild a mission there after an arson attack.

O’Connell was found in Hacienda Heights around 1 p.m. Saturday with a gunshot wound. Sheriff ’s deputies were called to the area — just blocks from the St. John Vianney Catholic Church, which is part of O’Connell’s archdioces­e — on a report of a medical emergency.

Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene, the sheriff’s department said. The archdioces­e said O’Connell lived in Hacienda Heights, but it was not immediatel­y clear whether he was found at his home or elsewhere.

About a dozen people prayed the rosary next to police tape late Saturday after news of O’Connell’s death broke.

“He didn’t hold back his words. He was well spoken,” Jonny Flores told the Los Angeles Times from outside the crime scene. “He would take the time. He was very humble. He was never too busy.”

The sheriff’s department on Saturday initially only said homicide detectives had responded to “a shooting death investigat­ion” with a male adult victim. Authoritie­s did not identify the victim as O’Connell until Sunday morning.

The Los Angeles County sheriff offered the agency’s condolence­s, saying detectives are “committed to arresting those responsibl­e for this horrible crime.”

“He was a peacemaker and had a passion serving those in need while improving our community,” Sheriff Robert Luna said on Twitter.

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez initially only said O’Connell, who served in the city for decades, “passed away unexpected­ly” without mentioning the violence. The archdioces­e on Sunday referred media inquiries to the sheriff ’s department.

“It is a shock and I have no words to express my sadness,” Gomez said in his original statement Saturday, calling him “a good friend.”

“Bishop Dave was a man of deep prayer who had a great love for Our Blessed Mother,” he said. “He was a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant, and he had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected.”

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