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Police establish contact with man holding archbishop

June 28, 2000
Web posted at: 3:59 p.m. EDT (1959 GMT)

SAN ANTONIO (CNN) -- A man who said he had a hand grenade entered the offices of the San Antonio Catholic archdiocese Wednesday morning and took the archbishop hostage, authorities said.

"He is being held against his will," said Officer Hans Rohrbaugh of the San Antonio Police Department. He said negotiators had finally established contact with the man, hours after he seized Archbishop Patrick Flores and holed up in his third-floor chancery office, tearing out the phone.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

More than 2 1/2 hours later, the archbishop's secretary Myrtle Sanchez was released unharmed. Another secretary had escaped earlier, calmly leaving the chancery after activating a silent alarm that notified police.

Police could not say what kind of weapon the man had. A caller told officers at the outset the man claimed to have a hand grenade and had threatened to kill Flores.

Officers had difficulty initiating communication with the man because "the phone in the archbishop's office has been torn out," said Mayor Howard Peak. "Unfortunately, the easiest method of communication has been destroyed."

Msgr. Terance Nolan said the man confronted the archbishop on the ground floor and rode up the elevator with him, but that the receptionist does not remember seeing the man enter the building.

"I heard mention there was some question of immigration, and that seemed to be part of the discussion" between Flores and the man who confronted him, said Nolan, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Another archdiocesan official said the man may have been trying to get a job.

Sister Maria Elena Gonzalez, president of the Mexican-American Cultural Center and a friend of the archbishop, said the man had stopped by Flores' office Tuesday for a visit she described as "routine."

"The archbishop is a very hospitable, welcoming man," she said. "He never turns anybody away."

"We do not have an identification of the suspect at this point," said FBI Special Agent Rene Salinas. "FBI resources are on standby, but the San Antonio Police Department has not yet asked for our assistance."

Msgr. Larry Steubing, vicar general for the archdiocese, told reporters the same man "was here yesterday to see the archbishop" and it was "nothing out of the ordinary" for him to be seen in the building with Flores again Wednesday. He said there was no cause for alarm until he refused to let Flores' secretary leave the office.

Police officials said they received a call at 10:22 a.m. (11:22 a.m. EDT) reporting that a man who said he had a hand grenade had threatened Flores.

Responding officers evacuated about 100 people from the building. Hostage negotiators were on the scene and SWAT teams surrounded the building, which also houses Catholic Television of San Antonio, which reaches 330,000 households in the city.

Flores, known to many as "The Mariachi bishop" because of his fondness for Mexican music and dancing, is the nation's first Mexican-American archbishop. He's has been praised by Protestants and Jews because of his openness to people of all faiths and nationalities.

Born in Ganado, Texas, he studied at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston and was ordained a priest May 26, 1956. After a year as bishop in El Paso, He became archbishop of San Antonio Oct. 13, 1979 and is spirtual leader for more than 700,000 Catholics.

"He likes to have an open door policy," Nolan said. "He doesn't want people to feel that they're not welcome."



RELATED STORIES:
Suspect in custody in Charlotte medical center standoff
May 5, 2000
Baltimore police: Former hostage not eligible for reward
March 27, 2000

RELATED SITES:
San Antonio Police Department
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Archdiocese of San Antonio
Focus: Archbishop Patrick Flores

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