N.Y. priest is shot dead while delivering homily

LYNBROOK, N.Y. - Opening fire during morning Mass yesterday, a man in a black trenchcoat killed a Catholic priest and an elderly parishioner inside Our Lady of Peace Church in this Long Island town. Police stormed a nearby home later and arrested a suspect after a daylong standoff.

The priest, the Rev. Lawrence Penzes, 50, was in the middle of his homily when a man fired at least six shots from a 22-caliber rifle, killing Penzes and Eileen Tosner, 73, a Lynbrook resident who fellow parishoners said attended Mass daily. About 40 worshipers were present for 9 a.m. services at the stone Gothic-style church.

Penzes collapsed and probably died on the altar, after a bullet pierced his shoulder from behind and went through his heart, said Dr. Dana Monaco of Mercy Medical Center. Tosner was struck in the face.

Local police identified the suspect as Peter Troy, 34, who had lived for about two months in the house where he was captured about 4 p.m. That house is located on the same block as the church.

Homicide detectives at the Nassau County Police Department would not confirm the identity of the suspect.

About midday, Gene Scarpato, the mayor of this small town 5 miles east of John F. Kennedy Airport, told reporters he had heard that Troy had worked as a janitor at the church until Penzes fired him several months ago. Police did not confirm that account and late last night said that the man was never employed at Our Lady of Peace or the Rockville Centre Diocese, of which the parish is a part.

Nuns affiliated with the parish told several local religious leaders that they did not recognize the intruder. Ed Hughes, a custodian at the church for 12 years, said that Troy had never worked in the church and that he had never seen him before. Hughes's brother James owns the nearby house where Troy lives.

Troy was taken to Nassau County Police Headquarters in nearby Garden City, and he will be arraigned today in Hempstead.

Our Lady of Peace Church is the place of worship for 2,400 families in this village of 20,000.

Parishioners waiting outside the church yesterday said they were shocked at the violent death of their pastor. Many called him Father Larry.

''He was a great guy,'' Howard Ryder, 49, an exterminator, said of the slain priest.

Juan Sanchez, 44, a retired police officer, agreed, saying, ''He was the sweetest guy you'd ever want to know.''

Sanchez, a sergeant at the 514th Air Mobility Wing at nearby McGuire Air Force Base, said Penzes was also the wing's reserve chaplain and had conducted Masses for troops around the world, recently, in Afghanistan and, during Operation Desert Storm, in Saudi Arabia.

Penzes was also chaplain for the town's Fire Department.

The two parishioners said that Our Lady of Peace Church had been flagging, losing money and members until Penzes took it over in 1994 and brought it back to life.

Behind the church is a Catholic school, which was locked but stayed in session during the police standoff with Troy down the block.

Police said the shooting took place about 9:15 a.m., when, without saying a word, a man fired from the back of the church.

Jean Maier said she was seated in the first pew and heard three crackling sounds and lunged to the floor. ''I saw Father Larry go down ... then when I finally got up, the lady behind me was dead,'' she told a local cable news channel.

Two parishioners - one of them Gary Knacke, a local police lieutenant - chased the shooter and wrested a rifle away from him before he fled.

For a few hours, police said, Troy held three people hostage inside a house, but let them go early in the afternoon. Matuza said later that the three apparently also lived in the house, adding that he was not sure whether the building was an apartment building or a rooming house.

Inspector Pete Matuza of the Nassau County police said that six to eight officers from the department's special operations squad stormed the house.

Troy, armed with a small knife, tried to stab one of the officers, but was subdued, Matuza said.

Last night, Bishop William F. Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese presided at a Mass in the auditorium of the parish school. With about 12 white-robed priests behind him on the stage, Murphy told the congregation of approximately 1,500 that the shooting was ''an unreasonable and unexplainable act.''

Murphy urged the congregation to pray for Penzes, for Tosner, and also for Troy, asking that God ''show him mercy.''

''You must pick up what fell today on the altar,'' said Murphy, formerly a priest and auxiliary bishop of the Boston archdiocese. ''There's no way that we can shrug this off and not be affected, but it opens up the possibility of new and greater devotion.''