An armed man, possibly distraught over a relationship, was fatally shot Sunday afternoon by Santa Ana police in a Catholic church, a police spokesman said.
The man was shot at the altar at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church at 1100 S. Center St., near McFadden Avenue.
An officer responding to an unrelated call for service at a park across the street from the church was flagged down around 4:20 p.m. by church members, between services, who said there was a man with a gun inside, Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
The officer radioed that information in, went inside and found the man at the altar with a handgun in his hand, Bertagna said. The officer fired at the suspect and struck him. The man exited a back door and ran 100 feet outside the church before he collapsed on Center Street south of McFadden. He was pronounced dead at the scene with the gun he was carrying still in his possession.
Police searched the church campus and an adjacent school after hearing word of a possible second suspect, but did not find any additional suspects or victims.
No officers or church parishioners were hurt. An estimated 10 to 15 people potentially associated with a choir group were in the church at the time of the incident, police said.
“We understand he was distraught over a relationship,” Bertagna said. “We’re not sure if that’s why he was here.”
Police Chief David Valentin said witnesses reported the man was distraught and possibly suicidal; and it didn’t appear he was planning a mass shooting.
While the shooting happened in the church, police said it did not otherwise involve the church.
“We don’t believe this was related to the church,” Bertagna said.
“It’s tragic, it really is. Any loss of life, it’s tragic. In this circumstance, it’s a place of worship. People come here for comfort, spiritual healing, support, so for this to happen here it’s traumatic for everyone involved,” Valentin said.
It wasn’t known how many shots were fired. It also wasn’t yet known if the suspect fired at officers or threatened them.
The suspect’s name was withheld pending notification of family.
A Vote Center in the church was evacuated because of the incident, according to Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.
“Vote Center staff and voters have been evacuated and are safe,” the Registrar’s office said in a statement.
Maria Roque, 39 of Santa Ana, was one of a handful of community members who walked to the church for Sunday evening mass only to see it surrounded by yellow police tape with a large number of police vehicles nearby.
She, like the others, was surprised to find out a shooting had taken place. She said friends were serving in the library inside the church when the shooting occurred, but they were all safe.
“It’s scary to think we’re not even safe here,” Roque said. “I’ve been coming here since I was 16 years old.”