Phoenix police confirmed the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Father Kenneth Walker, a Phoenix police spokesman said Monday morning via social media.
Investigators arrested a 54-year-old man with a history of aggravated assault and misconduct involving weapons on suspicion of killing the 28-year-old priest found dead in a rectory near downtown Phoenix last week.
News of the arrest of Gary Michael Moran came hours before Valley residents honored Walker with a requiem Mass.
Moran was released from prison in April after having served the majority of a 10-year sentence for burglary and aggravated assault, according to court records.
Walker was murdered late Wednesday night in the rectory of a Catholic parish west of downtown Phoenix.
Phoenix police collected physical evidence from the Catholic church Walker was killed and another critically injured Wednesday night, but investigators spent the weekend developing more information about the crimes.
Walker, 28, was shot and killed and Father Joseph Terra, 56, was wounded at a Catholic church Wednesday night near the state Capitol, a Phoenix police spokesman said.
Police were responding to a burglary call shortly after 9 p.m. near 16th Avenue and Monroe Street at the Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission, said Sgt. Steve Martos, a Phoenix police spokesman.
Terra, the pastor, was identified as the priest who survived but remained in stable condition.
Police said Terra was “physically harmed” but not stabbed or shot.
Terra called 911, police said.
A car that police were seeking in connection with the attack was found at 17th Avenue and Taylor Street, about four blocks north of the church, Martos said. The car was unoccupied when it was found.
Moran was arrested in 2005 after he entered a Phoenix home, found a steak knife and went into the homeowner’s bedroom, according to court documents. The homeowner awoke to find Moran rummaging around his room, according to court records. When the resident sat up, Moran stabbed him in the stomach, according to court records, and he continued to stab the man until the victim was able to pull a pillow over his abdomen, according to court documents. The victim’s brother and neighbors jumped on Moran and detained him until police arrived, according to court records.
Moran told investigators at the time that he didn’t fully recall breaking into the home and assaulting the man, according to court records, but he also said he had recently used methamphetamine.
Court records indicate that prior to his sentencing in the 2005 assault case, Moran had three misdemeanor and four felony convictions, including a misconduct involving weapons charge in 2000.
Moran was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May 2006 and received credit for more than a year he had served in jail prior to his sentencing, according to court records. Moran was released from custody on April 25, according to Department of Corrections records.
A Department of Corrections spokesman could not immediately provide information Monday morning about whether Moran was subject to any supervision after his release in April.
Walker was an ordained priest in the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. He graduated from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, a Catholic school located in Ontario, Canada, where he studied from 2003 to 2005 before moving to Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Neb. Walker ordained in 2012 in Nebraska.
Terra comes from a family of nine children that grew up in the farming country around Lodi, Calif.
Before joining the priesthood, he worked in the honey business, hauling bees, said Father Jose Salgado, a priest who has known Terra for 23 years.
Salgado said Terra is built like a boxer and has a tough demeanor. “I wouldn’t want to take him on,” said Salgado, who celebrates the Latin Mass at St. Cecilia Church in Clarkdale.
Terra was instrumental in finding the vacant church building and making it the home of the Mother of Mercy Mission, said John Shannon, who now serves at a parish outside Topeka, Kan.
The mission was established by Bishop Thomas Olmsted in 2005 to provide Latin Mass to the faithful in Arizona.
The mission previously held services at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. Its current location, west of downtown Phoenix, was dedicated in December 2010.