Parishioners mourn after Nebraska priest fatally stabbed in rectory

The late Father Stephen Gutgsell.
The late Father Stephen Gutgsell. | Archdiocese of Omaha

Parishioners at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, were left in mourning after their priest, the Rev. Stephen Gutgsell, was fatally stabbed at the church during a break-in Sunday morning.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said police received a 911 call at 5:05 a.m. about an attempted break-in at the church's rectory and when they got there, they found the priest suffering from injuries. The suspect was later identified as 43-year-old Kierre L. Williams of Sioux City, Iowa. Williams has been arrested for murder and the use of a weapon to commit a felony.

“Deputies arrived at the scene in 6 minutes and located a black male inside the residence and Father Stephen Gutgsell suffering from injuries sustained from an assault,” Sheriff Mike Robinson said in a statement. “Father Gutgsell was transported to UNMC by the Fort Calhoun Rescue where he later died from his injuries.”

Gutgsell’s death was also announced in a statement by the Archdiocese of Omaha Sunday.

“The Archdiocese of Omaha is praying for Father Stephen Gutgsell, who was assaulted during an invasion at the rectory of St. John the Baptist parish in Fort Calhoun early Sunday morning,” the archdiocese said in their statement. “The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is investigating, and there are no further details at this time. Please join Archbishop George Lucas in prayer for the repose of Father Gutgsell, for his family and for the St. John the Baptist parish community in this tragic time.”

According to the church’s website, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, is a smaller parish in the Archdiocese of Omaha just off Highway 75 in Washington County with more than 250 families, many of whom were left heartbroken Sunday after they heard the news of Gutgsell’s murder.

The news of Gutgsell’s murder comes only months after his brother, Fr. Michael Gutgsell, 74, who is also a priest in Omaha, reached a plea bargain with local prosecutors and pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges of theft, almost two years after he was charged with stealing some $200,000 from an elderly priest. The deceased priest’s brother alleged that he gave the stolen money, along with hundreds of thousands from his own savings, to an Omaha homeless man whom he said he expected to pay him back.

No one at the church immediately responded to calls from The Christian Post for comment Monday but several parishioners spoke with KETV about their heartbreak in losing their priest.

"It's very difficult to believe that he's not going to be in there when we walk in there today," Rosemary Therkildsen told KETV. "Father's just been a wonderful person. I've gone to a lot of Bible studies with him. He was just a brilliant man." 

"Just doesn't feel real," lamented another parishioner, Kelly Tegels, to the news outlet. "It's going to be hard. I'm bringing flowers tonight because he always had this altar decorated with flowers, and I know he would appreciate it.”

Everett Kingrey, who is also a parishioner, said the manner in which their pastor was killed is what makes his murder a bit more difficult to digest.

"A real gut punch ... I guess. Something you don't expect, … especially here in a small town, but you know, terrible," said Everett Kingrey.

Tegels said the one good thing for congregants is that police have arrested someone for the priest's death.

"I mean, it feels a little bit more comforting that they do have someone in custody, but it's still not ... it's not right," she said. "He's going to be terribly missed."

“I don't know what he could been breaking in for," Therkildsen said about the suspect’s crimes. "It's just senseless.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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