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Abbey Rampage a Mystery

by Lois Romano, Washington Post

CONCEPTION, Mo. - Investigators have not established a motive for why 71-year-old Lloyd Jeffress opened fire at a Catholic monastery here in rural northwest Missouri, killing two monks and injuring two others before turning the gun on himself in a church.

Abbot Gregory Polan, the head of Conception Abbey, said the abbey had scoured records of former employees, alumni and donors, and could find no evidence that Jeffress had any association with the Benedictine monastery. He said abbey officials are looking at the guest records of the thousands of visitors who have come on pilgrimages or retreats.

"So far, we have absolutely no connection to this man," Polan said. "You see here a man who really must have had serious mental, emotional and spiritual problems -- who in some ways cannot be held responsible."

"It appears to be tragically random," said Rebecca Summers, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Officials at the abbey and the seminary college connected to it said they have not found a link between Jeffress and the sex scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, but they left open the possibility of one. The abbey's seminary has trained the majority of the priests in its diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, as well as many others in the neighboring Archdiocese of Kansas City.

The abbey and seminary have been only indirectly connected to the scandal. Christopher Dixon, a former student and now former priest, accused former bishop Anthony J. O'Connell and the Rev. John H. Fischer, another Abbey alumnus, of molesting him in Hannibal, Mo., in the 1970s. O'Connell, who served on the abbey's board of regents for years, resigned as bishop of Palm Beach in March after a half-dozen additional victims came forward.

Authorities continued to talk to Jeffress's family and neighbors at his home in Kearney, Mo., a 2 1/2-hour drive south from here, in an effort to establish a motive.

Jeffress appeared to be a longtime Methodist, according to Brad Reed, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Kearney, where Jeffress had been attending services for the past month.

"One of his neighbors invited him to worship with us, and he had indicated to her that he had belonged to another church a number of years ago, dating back to his youth," Reed said today. "He came the last four or five Sundays. He was very quiet, spoke little. We just exchanged greetings. I tried to make him feel welcomed."

Police on Monday searched Jeffress's home at a housing complex for the elderly but found no note either there, at the scene, or in the green sedan he had driven to the monastery. Jeffress had no prior criminal record, authorities said.

Madden said the authorities told him that Jeffress had been estranged from his brother, an ex-wife and a child. Neighbors at his apartment complex said he stayed to himself.

The abbey is on a 30-acre campus 25 miles from a major road, and it includes the Conception Seminary College and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Since a $9 million renovation of the basilica in 1999, 30,000 people have visited the abbey, said Polan. About 65 monks, including priests and religious brothers, live at the abbey, but only about 30 were there the day of the shooting.

Today the bells of the abbey's basilica tolled at 8:40 a.m., when it is believed Jeffress started shooting.

Jeffress entered the monastery through a side door in the basilica with an MAK-90 assault rifle and a .22-caliber rifle, and opened fire on anyone he saw. He killed Brother Damian Larson first, and then shot the Rev. Norbert Schappler and the Rev. Kenneth Reichert when they poked their heads out of the refectory to investigate the commotion. Both survived. He then went down the hall and shot and killed the Rev. Philip Schuster, who was the abbey's official front-door greeter. By this time, Polan had heard the shots and called 911.

Police searched the grounds for nearly 2 1/2 hours before finding Jeffress. After his rampage, he slipped back into the church unnoticed and, sitting in the second to last pew, shot himself with the .22-caliber rifle.

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