Lawrence Capener was shaking hands with his fellow churchgoers at Sunday Mass, exchanging the traditional peace offerings when people next to him noticed something strange — his hands were quite sweaty and clammy. Then, as the choir began singing a hymn to wrap up Mass, the man bolted from his pew, ran to the choir area and started stabbing the choir leader and others, witnesses said.
Parishioners screamed and ran for cover and others, including the church flutist, tried to subdue him. Police said the assailant thought the choir members were members of a secret society.
The episode caused panic among church members such as 12-year-old Jordan Schalow and his mother, Valerie, who had just heard the pastor at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church read a Gospel message about the importance of loving everyone and had the recent bombing in Boston on their mind.
Jordan had told his mom earlier, "Thank God. I'm in church and nothing bad is going to happen here."
Valerie Schalow said her husband, Gerald, sat next to Capener during services and had noticed him acting nervously. When he shook Capener's hand, she said her husband found them to be very sweaty. "My husband even had to go wash his hands after that," Schalow said.
The random and violent attack by the knife-wielding Capener, 24, sparked confusion and fear in the Albuquerque Westside church as the choir started singing "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."
According to a criminal complaint released Monday, Capener vaulted over pews and lashed out at choir director Adam Alvarez, who had his back toward him.
"I saw what was happening and I yelled at my husband," said Schalow, who ran out of the church with her three children. "The guy had been acting strange during Mass."
The complaint said church flutist Gerald Madrid saw Alvarez being attacked and attempted to "bear hug" Capener to try and stop him. Madrid was then stabbed five times in his back by Capener, authorities said.
"I instinctively just dropped my flute and I rushed the guy," Madrid said. "I never saw a knife, but I just rushed him."
At least two others were injured in the attack, police said.
Capener later told police that he was "99 percent sure Alvarez was a mason" and that he thought Alvarez was involved in a conspiracy.
He told the investigator that Masons are a group involved "in a conspiracy that is far more reaching than I could or would believe."
Capener, whose mother is active in the church, said he stabbed the others who tried to subdue him because he thought they might be Masons, too.
Among those to subdue Capener was off-duty Albuquerque Fire Department Lt. Greg Aragon, who then helped treat patients after the attack, authorities said. He was also stabbed in the attack and was later treated at a hospital and released.
The affidavit said Capener apologized for stabbing the others after he was read his rights and agreed to speak to police.
Masons are a fraternal group involved in charity and other community activities, but many of their rituals and symbols are secret.
Capener was charged on three counts of aggravated battery and ordered held on $250,000 bail.
St. Jude Thaddeus' pastor, the Rev. John Daniel, said Capener's mother was "very active" in the parish and serves as a Eucharistic minister there.
"He was here occasionally but not very often," Daniel said.
Daniel said that Capener had just graduated from a community college and appeared to be doing well after getting a job. "I think he's been struggling for a while, maybe with some (mental) health issues," Daniel said.
Both Alvarez and Madrid remained hospitalized Monday and their families said the men were recovering from wounds that were described as not life-threatening.
Services at the 3,000-member church resumed Monday. Parishioners stopped to leave flowers, notes and candles outside the church and at the church's shrine dedicated to St. Jude, the church's namesake and the Catholic Patron Saint of "lost causes."
In Mass homilies throughout the day, Daniel said he compared St. Catherine of Siena, who worked for peace in 14th century Italy, with the power of forgiveness.
Robynn Madrid, whose husband Gerald Madrid was recovering from the attack, said despite the pain Capener caused, she's already forgiven him. "We're praying for his family," she said.
Spanish choir member Richard Aragon said he, too, is trying to show compassion and forgiveness, even though he had trouble sleeping the night after the stabbing. Aragon was preparing for the upcoming Spanish services when the attack began.
"There's nothing you can do. There's obviously something...he's touched or something," Aragon said. "It already happened. It's too late."
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