Teen armed with rifle tries to enter church where 60 children gather for First Communion

The prompt response from parishioners prevented a near tragedy when an armed teen arrived at a Louisiana church with dozens of children inside.

“We’re always in God’s hands.”

A day before marking the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord and two days before the feast of Our Lady of Fátima, 60 children gathered at Abbeville, Louisiana’s St. Mary Maddalen Church to receive their First Holy Communion. However, the celebration of the sacrament came to an abrupt halt during Mass on Saturday when parishioners reportedly spotted a suspicious person dressed in black, later identified as a teen with a rifle.

Video of the livestreamed Mass was shared by KADN and captured the moment that a man approached Father Nicholas G. Dupré to inform him about the apparent threat as law enforcement from the Abbeville Police Department and Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office had responded to a call about the suspect whom members of the parish had brought outside and detained until authorities arrived.

After the priest could be seen processing what he was told, he asked that attendees take a seat before he led the parish in praying a series of Hail Marys. As he did so, police could be seen moving about the church, sweeping the building for any additional threats.

“First Communion was proceeding as normal and then police came in with their guns drawn. People started running to get their kids and we were told to get down,” explained Mass attendee Liz Touchet to KADN.

According to a statement from Abbeville Chief of Police Mike Hardy, “Upon arrival, Officers arrested the suspect and placed him in custody. Officers with the Abbeville Police Department and Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office made a sweep through the church to ensure there was no additional threat and confirmed that no one was injured.”

In the moment, Dupré and other members of the clergy could be seen ducking behind the altar as the scene grew increasingly more panicked with frightened cries sounding from off-camera and altar servers seen running from one side to the church to the other.

After several tense moments, a voice could be heard informing those inside the Catholic Church, “So guys. Just get a hold of your child. Go slowly. We did apprehend a young man. He is in custody. He is in the police custody. Calm down and just get next to your child and just go slowly.”

By Saturday afternoon, the church and Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of the Diocese of Lafayette had released statements with the former saying in part, “This morning, our First Communion ceremony was interrupted when a suspicious person opened the back door. The individual was immediately confronted by parishioners, escorted outside and the police were called. The individual was quickly apprehended by Abbeville Police Department and is in their custody.”

“Once apprehended, law enforcement entered the church to make sure there was no additional danger. This understandably caused panic. While we realize this was a frightening experience for those in attendance,” informed the church, “we are incredibly grateful to both parishioners and police officers for acting quickly to ensure the safety of all.”

Likewise, Deshotel expressed, “We are thankful to God that a tragedy was avoided at the First Communion Mass for the children of St. Mary Magdalen in Abbeville. The quick response of the Abbeville Police Department and alert parishioners is a great example of caring for the most vulnerable in our community. Let us pray for an end to all threats of violence to innocent human life.”

The Abbeville Police Department identified the suspect as a 16-year-old white male who was questioned in the presence of a parent and charged with Terrorizing and two counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Juvenile. It was also detailed that he was being held in Abbeville General Hospital Behavioral Unit for medical evaluation.

Saturday’s near tragedy came less than one week after a man was seen entering Jesus’ Dwelling Place Church in North Braddock, Pennsylvania where he allegedly pulled the trigger of a gun aimed directly at the pastor under the guidance of “spirits.” The gun failed to discharge.

During Mass Monday morning, Dupré made note of the timing of the feast of Our Lady of Fátima and his own reaction to pray the Hail Mary during the incident and reminded his parishioners, “We’re always in God’s hands.”

Kevin Haggerty


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