Peaceful Palm Sunday services were interrupted at Rushville’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church when law enforcement shot a suspect who entered the church.
“It was all of a sudden,” said Father Joseph K. Joseph, who was leading services Sunday. “There was a noise in the back of the church.”
Clarence Leading Fighter, 32, was shot by Sheridan County Sheriff’s Deputies who were attempting to apprehend him in connection with an alleged assault. Deputies responded to 303 Chamberlain Street in Rushville at just before 10:30 a.m. that morning and discovered a victim with a broken arm, accord-ing to a Nebraska State Patrol press release. The investigation led authorities to Leading Fighter, who was shot just after 11 a.m. after entering the church.
“I was reading the Gospel,” said Father Joseph. “I heard a commotion and the sound of people falling.”
Initially he believed someone had passed out, but in quick succession uniformed officers entered the church and shots were fired. Unsure of what the circumstances were, Father Joseph’s thoughts turned to terrorism and his congregation.
“You’re slowly trying to see what was happening, understand what was happening,” he said. “My concern was about the people.”
Palm Sunday services always attract a larger crowd, and Father Joseph estimates there was between 100-150 attendees in the pews. Congregants attempted to take shelter as the shooting began. None of the church-goers were injured during the incident.
Leading Fighter was pronounced dead at a local hospital, said NSP Public Relations Director Cody Thomas. Because he was killed during his apprehension, the Nebraska State Patrol is investigating the incident, and a grand jury will be convened, as required by state law whenever a suspect dies in custody or during arrest. The Sheridan County Attorney’s Office has turned its portion of the case over to the Nebraska Attorney General.
Thomas declined to comment on how many deputies were involved in the incident, whether or not Leading Fighter was in possession of a weapon and whether other non-lethal means were employed first in an attempt to stop him. He also did not comment on the sequence of events that resulted in Leading Fighter entering the church.
Father Joseph and his congregation were asked by police to vacate the church after the incident, and the entire area was cordoned off, the priest said. The church must be re-consecrated, and Father Joseph expects the bishop to arrive Wednesday for that ceremony. If that occurs as planned, the church should be able to proceed with its Holy Week services.
The church’s parish council also expected to meet Monday to discuss the incident and how to re-instill confidence in the congregation.
“They are all in shock,” Father Joseph said.