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Suspect arrested in shooting of Los Angeles bishop is housekeeper’s husband

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell was committed to 'the ordinary person, not the rich Catholic,' said Linda Dakin-Grimm, an immigration attorney who worked with the bishop. His death is being investigated as a homicide.

Jose and Teresa Diaz lead a rosary prayer Sunday evening, Feb. 19, 2023, for Bishop David G. O’Connell in Hacienda Heights, a suburb in Los Angeles County. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — The suspect arrested in Saturday’s shooting of Roman Catholic Bishop David G. O’Connell is Carlos Medina, the husband of the bishop’s housekeeper, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna. The sheriff made the announcement at a press conference Monday afternoon (Feb. 20) with a visibly distraught Archbishop José H. Gomez, O’Connell’s superior, who called his auxiliary bishop “a good friend to Los Angeles.”

Medina, 65, was arrested at about 8:15 a.m. Monday in the city of Torrance. No motive was given, but Luna said the suspect had previously done work around the bishop’s house. Detectives are looking into whether there was a dispute over money.

The housekeeper is cooperating with the investigation, Luna said. It is believed that a deacon called 911 after going to the bishop’s home to check on him because he had been late to a meeting, Luna said.

A somber Gomez, his voice was trembling and seemingly close to tears, said of O’Connell: “He was a good priest, and a good bishop, and a man of peace. We are very sad to have lost him.” 

At one point, Luna embraced Gomez and told him in his ear, “God is with you.”

In the hours since O’Connell’s body was found a stream of neighbors and Catholics from around the Los Angeles area visited the home in Hacienda Heights, a suburb in San Gabriel Valley, after the news spread that the bishop had been discovered with a gunshot wound to his chest. 

Mourners prayed the rosary and left bouquets of flowers and votive candles. Several visitors talked about O’Connell’s outreach to the unhoused and lauded his advocacy for immigrants. Others recalled social gatherings where O’Connell — often referred to as “Bishop Dave” or “Father Dave” — would “sit with everyone.”

“He was one of us,” one mourner said, adding, “He prayed for everyone.”

Linda Dakin-Grimm, an immigration attorney who worked with O’Connell for more than a decade, said it was hard to believe anyone would want to kill him. “Father Dave brings people together. I’ve never met a person who had anything bad to say about him, ever. Everybody loves him,” said Dakin-Grimm.

She recalled O’Connell’s work with poor dioceses in Peru, his commitment with parishes in South Central L.A. and how he would pay Catholic school tuition for students in need or to help an immigrant family pay rent. O’Connell, she said, was committed to “the ordinary person, not the rich Catholic.”

Bishop O'Connell, center, with volunteers poses for a photo with volunteers and a family whose asylum case the bishop supported. Courtesy of Linda Dakin-Grim

Bishop O’Connell, center,  poses for a photo with volunteers and a family whose asylum case the bishop supported. Courtesy of Linda Dakin-Grimm

Dakin-Grimm credited O’Connell, who served as chairman of the interdiocesan Southern California Immigration Task Force, with her decision to take on pro-bono immigration cases. She has represented unaccompanied minors and those who were separated from parents deported under the Trump administration.

“He has always been the person who had the back of every person that I took on,” Dakin-Grimm said. “He’s an extremely unique person of deep faith and witness and kindness. I don’t see how we will fill that big, aching gap.”

Jose Diaz, a member of a Catholic men’s fellowship, said O’Connell often joined the men for prayer services and Christian formation and “spiritually guided me and the group.”

On Sunday evening, Diaz and his wife, Teresa, led a rosary prayer service near a growing makeshift memorial outside O’Connell’s home.

“He was a light of hope and he gave people options. Most of us, we don’t encounter holy people. He gave us the option of turning to God,” he said.

Suzanne Hernandez, who worships at Holy Name of Mary Parish in the San Gabriel Valley city of San Dimas, said O’Connell was caring, humble and “a man of the people” who encouraged others to speak up.

“If there was an injustice, he encouraged people not to be afraid,” said Hernandez, who met O’Connell at an archdiocese event a few years ago. “He was such a champion for the immigrants here in California … In this political climate that we unfortunately live in, people like him, there’s a big need for them.”

At an event with migrant kids. Courtesy of Linda Dakin-Grim

Bishop O’Connell was an involved member of the community in and outside of the church. He attended community events like this to eat and talk with members of the L.A. migrant community. Courtesy of Linda Dakin-Grimm

Larry Dietz, vice president for the San Gabriel Valley chapter of the Knights of Columbus, regarded O’Connell as a “brother knight.”

“He was one of us,” said Dietz, who was at the prayer service on Sunday with members of Knights on Bikes who belong to the fraternal organization.

“He would do anything for his parishes … for the Knights, for his Catholic family. It was whatever he could do, he was there, and we were always there to support him,” Dietz said.

“We’re taught to protect our bishop, our priests, our clergy. So whatever they need, in a heartbeat we’re there,” he added.

O’Connell, 69, a native of Ireland, had been episcopal vicar for the archdiocese’s San Gabriel Pastoral Region since 2015, when Pope Francis named him an auxiliary, according to Angelus News, the L.A. Archdiocese’s news outlet. He had worked in the L.A. diocese for 45 years.

Born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1953, O’Connell studied for the priesthood at All Hallows College in Dublin and was ordained to serve in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1979, according to Angelus News.

After ordination, O’Connell worked in South Central L.A. parishes and focused on gang intervention. He worked to mediate peace between residents and law enforcement following the violent 1992 uprising after a jury acquitted four white L.A. police officers in the beating of Rodney King.

O’Connell was a “peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant,” Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said in his statement, “and he had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected.”

His influence was widespread in the L.A. region, and across the country and globe.

A poster and rosary hang on a sign marked off with crime scene tape in memory of Bishop O'Connell on Sunday evening, Feb. 19, 2023, in Hacienda Heights. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

A poster and rosary hang on a sign marked off with crime scene tape in memory of Bishop O’Connell on Sunday evening, Feb. 19, 2023, in Hacienda Heights. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

The Diocese of Cork and Ross in Ireland, where O’Connell was born, called for prayers for the bishop’s death. Bishop Fintan Gavin said in a statement that O’Connell “has always maintained his connection with family and friends in Cork.”

Former L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti called O’Connell a friend who was part of a prayer group he participated in during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This city has lost one of its most beautiful angels,” he said.

Sister Norma Pimentel regarded O’Connell as “truly a man of God!” His departure, she said on Twitter, “has left us extremely sad.”

Even officials with the Los Angeles Football Club recognized the impact of O’Connell, who blessed the then-Banc of California Stadium at the 2018 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Rich Orosco, chief brand officer for LAFC, recalled in an Instagram post meeting O’Connell in 2013 and describing him “as a football loving Irishman,” who became a co-founder for the club’s youth leadership program, “committed to making an impact with underprivileged youth in LA.”

“He was a true community hero with a huge heart,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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