- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

CONCEPTION, Mo. (AP) A man wielding two rifles opened fire in a Roman Catholic abbey yesterday, killing two monks and seriously wounding two others before committing suicide in a chapel.

Authorities said they were trying to establish a motive for the shootings at the Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery and seminary.

A spokeswoman for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said it was not known whether the shootings were related to the national wave of cases of priestly sexual misconduct involving boys and young men.

"We have no idea who this person is," said Rebecca Summers, diocese spokeswoman. "There appears to be no explanation as to why this happened."

The gunman, whom the sheriff's office identified as Lloyd Robert Jeffress, 71, of Kearney, apparently opened fire at random in the halls around the business offices of the monastery about 8:40 a.m., said the Rev. Gregory Polan, abbot of the abbey.

Monks barred themselves in their rooms when they realized they were hearing gunfire.

Two monks were killed and two other monks were seriously wounded. Authorities later found Jeffress dead in a chapel on the monastery grounds and two weapons, an AK-47 and a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle, nearby.

The victims were identified as the Rev. Philip Schuster, 85, and Brother Damian Larson, 64. Father Schuster was a greeter at the monastery's front door; Brother Larson worked as a groundskeeper. Father Polan said both had been at the Abbey for more than 30 years.

The Rev. Kenneth Reichert, 68, an assistant to the abbot, was shot in the stomach and was in surgery. The Rev. Norbert Schappler, 73, was listed in stable condition; it wasn't immediately clear how he was wounded. Father Schappler oversees the dining room and works as director at the printing house.

Sheriff Ben Espey said officers had been sent to Jeffress' home about 70 miles south of the abbey to look for clues. As of yesterday afternoon, no evidence was released.

Father Polan said he was shown Jeffress' driver's license but did not recognize him as an employee or having a connection to the abbey.

"There's a lot of shock and sadness," Father Polan said. "These were two monks whose lives have been lived here in a generous, gracious spirit."

The Conception Abbey is on a 30-acre setting about 90 miles north of Kansas City. No students or faculty were on campus because the seminary had ended its academic year in mid-May. The complex also has a large publishing operation, which turns out religious greeting cards.

The seminary college is the biggest priestly training center in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. It lists a staff of 19 priests, eight brothers, one sister and six lay professors, and it has about 100 students.

Ronda Strueby, a supervisor in the packaging department of the abbey's printing house, said all employees were evacuated.

"One of the monks, Brother Jeremiah, said there's a man in the monastery with a gun, and we need everyone to evacuate," she said. "We were all told to go home."

He added: "There's a lot of helicopters and things around now. It's just not something you think about happening, especially in a religious institution."

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