Police: Gunman wounds 3 outside California church
Associated Press Writer
A man with a semiautomatic rifle opened fire at a church festival Saturday, wounding his ex-wife and two bystanders before festival-goers grabbed him and held him for police, authorities and a church official said.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene, with people screaming and running for the exit after gunfire rang out on a grassy field where the festival was being set up at the St. John Baptist de la Salle Roman Catholic parish.
Fernando Diaz Jr., 33, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, said Los Angeles Police Officer Ana Aguirre. He was held in Van Nuys jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail.
"I don't really have too much to say about that. It's a personal thing between me and the church," Diaz said to a KNX-AM reporter before being taken to jail.
When asked if he has an issue with the church, Diaz responded: "The church has an issue with me."
Jeff Sempelsz, a church volunteer was setting up a prize booth when the shooting started.
"It sounded like balloons popping," he said. "I didn't know what it was but I could see the rifle in his hand."
Diaz's 29-year-old wife was wounded in the arm and a 45-year-old man was wounded in the leg. Both were hospitalized in stable condition. A 43-year-old man was hit in the chest and was hospitalized in critical condition.
The victim's names were not released.
"We believe this is an isolated incident, a domestic-violence dispute," said police Capt. Steven Ruiz.
Diaz has a child who attends the church school and has had an ongoing custody dispute with the mother, Ruiz said. Authorities said Diaz was on parole for an unspecified crime, and a restraining order was in place to prevent him from being near the school, his son and wife.
The church's pastor, Father Robert Milbauer, said the festival was about 10 minutes from opening and about 50 volunteers, some accompanied by their children, were busy setting up food and game booths and carnival-style rides when the gunfire began.
"I was walking toward the festival area to say an opening prayer," Milbauer said.
The gunman walked away after the shooting but was quickly grabbed by bystanders, one of whom was an off-duty Burbank police officer. Another off-duty officer, from Los Angeles, produced handcuffs and the group held the man until uniformed officers arrived.
A search of a tennis bag used to carry the rifle uncovered 20 bullet rounds, police said.
William Griffin, a security guard watching the festival entrance, said dozens of people came running toward him.
"I heard someone yell, 'Somebody's shooting. Somebody's shooting.' I turned and saw a man with a long rifle. He was very calm," Griffin said.
The guard said he herded people into the church, then began locking the doors. The man who had been shot in the leg calmly limped in with the others, Griffin said.
The church and school are located in the city's Granada Hills area in the San Fernando Valley, an ordinarily peaceful, multiethnic, middle-class residential neighborhood not far from the historic San Fernando Mission.
The annual festival is held to raise money for the school's building fund.
Associated Press writers Robert Jablon and John Rogers contributed to this story.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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