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2002 Conception Abbey Shooting

Lesson learned from a Church Shooting

Gunman in a church building.

The associated training module is “Active Shooter Response.”[1]

From the Bible

There were two notorious killings of priests in the Old Testament. The first was from misplaced blame, the second was out of resentment for a righteous rebuke.

And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod (1 Samuel 22:18).

But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah's father, had shown him, but killed his son. And when he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!”(2 Kings 24:21-22).

Anger should not be held for a long time. It can become festering resentment.

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath (Ephesians 4:26).


Some acts of violence stem from long-time resentments. When the attack is on a church, the resentment is not always because of the local congregation. It may be against the denomination, against Christianity in general, or against all religion. It may also have a racial, ethnic, social class, or political motivation. Sometimes we do not know the motive.

Videocast and Lessons Learned Download

The shooting in this Lesson Learned article is discussed by Kris in a videocast on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy – the audio is in a Church Security Roll Callpodcast. Under the video screen is a link to the Show Notes (Church Shooting Lessons Learned Download), an article summary. The link for this article will be available for a month, until the next Lesson Learned article and videocast are posted. This PDF can be printed or attached to a message to share with others.[2][3]

Attack in the Abbey

Shortly before 8:40 on Monday morning, June 10, 2002, a 71-year-old man dressed in blue work clothes and cap, carried two boxes into the Basilica (church) of Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery and school in Conception, Missouri. He set the boxes down, took out two firearms, a replica AK-47 and a .22 sawed-off rifle and went into the hallway of the office area with the AK-47. There he shot a monk and three priests. The monk (age 64) and a priest (85) died. The other two priests (68 and 73) survived. After shooting these four, the killer went back into the basilica (sanctuary) where he fatally shot himself with the .22 rifle.

A Depressed and Resentful Person

The motive in the deadly shooting at Conception Abbey is still a mystery. Examinations of records showed no connection between the shooter and the monastery. Most think it was resentment from treatment by the Roman Catholic Church after a divorce decades earlier, while a few wonder if the shooter was abused when he was a teen.

The shooter was born in 1930 in Kansas City, about 80 miles south of Conception. He was not raised as a Catholic, but sometime in his youth he became a devout member.

He joined the Army after high school. Following his discharge he worked in Kansas City. In 1953 he was baptized in the Methodist church, and in 1954, he was married in a Baptist Church. This marriage did not last long. They were divorced 4½ years later in 1959 (I did not find the reason for the divorce). Twenty years later, in 1979, the Catholic diocese granted them an annulment. Strange as it may seem, it appears that even though he attended a Methodist Church, the man still considered himself a Catholic.

According to the shooter's daughter and brother, he was upset with how the church treated him because of the divorce. No details were reported, but it appears it may be the delay in getting an annulment. Why the delay we can only guess, but there are possible reasons based on the viewpoint of the church:

One question is whether the man was sexually abused as a teen. If so, it was not at the monastery or school. However, most of the priests in the Kansas City area during his youth had been educated at the Benedictine school in Conception. At the time of the shooting, there were investigations of sexual abuse connected to the monastery and parishes where its alumni served. Most of the abuses by monks and priests were while they were assigned to parishes, schools, and hospitals in the diocese. At the time the shooter grew up, such abuse was rarely reported to authorities. Note that two of those shot were older than the shooter, and the others were not much younger.

There is also the issue of mental illness. We do not know what kind of depression the man had or when it started. Did this contribute to the divorce? We do know that for some persons, certain anti-depressants make the depression worse when the medication is stopped than it would have been if they had not started the medication in the first place – as was the case for one well-known brand. In any case, the unresolved anger-resentment and the depression are a bad combination.

At the time of the shooting, the man lived in a retirement community. His neighbors described him as not friendly, more of a loner. His relatives never visited him. He hadn't seen his brother and his daughter in years, even though they did not live too far away.

What Followed

There was widespread shock and mourning for the slain priest and monk. The abbey was closed for two days during the police investigation and the cleanup. Since the details of the shooting were fairly clear, the investigation primarily focused on trying to discern the motive. The first potential motive was sexual abuse in the suspect's younger years. However, records did not reveal any point of contact between the killer and the abbey before that morning. Then his daughter and brother told of anger over how the Catholic Church treated him over the divorce and the annulment 23 and 43 years earlier.

The monks of Conception Abbey forgave the shooter, even saying prayers for his soul. There was widespread interest in the funerals for the slain monk and priest. No mention of the incident is made on Conception Abbey's website.

Security protocols for the abbey, if any, are not disclosed. However, with modern technology, surveillance cameras could be discretely placed. Also, in most Catholic churches now, security is the responsibility of ushers and greeters. Therefore, security measures could be in place without a security team as such.

This is not a direct result of the shooting incident. Conception Abbey is now trying to prevent sexual abuse. At least, that is the stated intent of the Program of Protection as expressed in a letter from the abbot to "friends of Conception Abbey."

Conception Abbey was featured in a documentary, "St. Benedict's Rule" by Jay Kanzler (released in 2009). This film/video covers the lifestyle and activities of Conception Abbey and the reasons why the monks choose this way of life. It also covers the 2002 shooting and how the monks coped with it.

Lesson Learned

The Lesson Learned is "Treat all unexpected or unusual packages with suspicion."

The Reason

The Conception Abbey shooting was totally unforeseen. There were no threats. The gunman was totally unknown to those in the Abbey; he drove about 70 to 80 miles north to Conception from where he lived. Dressed as he was, he could have been mistaken for a repairman with replacement parts in boxes. At that time of day, after the morning mass and before any noontime services, there was little likelihood of someone in the Basilica, therefore no one was there to question him.

A package may contain hostile material. Besides weapons (firearms, edged, or puncturing), it may have explosives, incendiaries, or toxic substances.

The Procedure

Monitor all entrances. When no one will be at an entrance, have it locked (this is the way it is at a convent my wife and I have visited). A visitor can ring the doorbell. Have a way for whoever is inside to see who is outside.

If an unexpected person has a package of any kind, ask to see what is in it. Whatever they say, you have a right to know. Also, look at the person for signs of hidden weapons.

If you believe the person is hostile, call for backup and call 911. Perhaps you can stall him or her until police arrive. On the other hand, the person may just leave (who wants to get caught?). Either way, the threat is abated. If they choose to attack, you're on the other side of the wall.

Locking and monitoring the doors is especially important when only a few people are in the building, such as in the office or performing maintenance work, or most of the people are away from primary entrances.


Be ready to screen all suspicious packages and persons before they can come into the church.

Training Notes

Each Church Safety Team is encouraged to have all of its members trained and certified. The Safety Member Certification program has eight training modules (classes), each with a certification test. Passing all of these will earn the student a two-year certification as a Safety Member.

There are three training formats plus auditing. The formats are Team Certification (church-hosted classes), Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction) and Online Events (live Zoom classes). Other persons can audit a class (not for credit) at a lower price. For instance, "Active Shooter Response" for ushers and greeters, "Arson and Fire Safety" for teachers, ushers, and worship leaders, and "Protecting Children from Abuse" for all teachers, child care workers, and youth leaders.

Quarter 2 of the 2022-2023 Online Events school year begins on November 13. "Active Shooter Response" is the next week on November 20. Classes are on Sundays at 3:00 PM.[4]






Training Module


Sep 11

Nov 13

Jan 29

Mar 26

Safety Team Fundamentals


Sep 18

Nov 20

Feb 5

Apr 2

Active Shooter Response


Sep 25

Dec 4

Feb 12

Apr 16

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Oct 2

Dec 11

Feb 19

Apr 23

Protecting Children from Abuse


Oct 9

Dec 18

Feb 26

Apr 30

Basic Use of Force Laws


Oct 16

Jan 8

Mar 5

May 7

Arson and Fire Safety


Oct 23

Jan 13

Mar 12

May 21

Storms and Disasters


Nov 6

Jan 22

Mar 19

Jun 4

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Another type of training is the Church Security Guide. It has nine articles covering all the subjects except "Mass Trauma Emergencies."[5]

The Lesson Learned in this article is covered in a video conversation between Kris and security expert Simon Osamoh, the founder of Worship Security Association.[6]

Also This Month

The other three articles this month are "View with Suspicion, Handle with Caution" (Dealing with Suspicious Vehicles), "Have Healthy Holidays" (Keep the Church Safe and Healthful), and "Stop the Grinch" (Responding to Child Abuse).


Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Sheep Security Academy, YouTube [].
  3. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, Sound Cloud [].
  4. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Sheep Security, © 2018 [].
  5. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Security Guide, Sheepdog Sheep Security, © 2019 [].
  6. Kris Moloney with Simon Osamoh, "Kris and Simon Interview," Sheepdog Sheep Security Academy, YouTube, November 11, 2021 [].

News Stories and Online Sources

  1. Anon, "3 dead in abbey shooting," UPI, June 10, 2002 [].
  2. Connie Farrow, "Motive in Abbey Shooting a Mystery," AP, June 11, 2002 [].
  3. Anon, "Two monks killed in abbey shooting," Washington Times, June 11, 2002 [].
  4. Lois Romano and Annie Gowen, "Gunman Kills 2 Monks, Wounds 2 at Missouri Abbey," Washington Post, June 11, 2002 [].
  5. From Associated Press, "Treatment by Church May Have Been Shooting Motive," Los Angeles Times (L.A. Times Archives), June 13, 2002 [].
  6. Anon, "Abbey Gunman Was Upset After Divorce," CBS News, June 10, 2002 [].
  7. Patrick Marker, "Archive for Lloyd Jeffress," Deception in Conception, News clippings from June 11, 2002 to October 30, 2011 [].
  8. Kim Norvell, "Law enforcement reflects on a decade anniversary," St. Joseph News-Press, June 9, 2012 [].
  9. Kia Shant'e Breaux (Associated Press Writer), "Investigators seek reasons behind abbey shooting," Lawrence Journal World, June 12, 2002 [].
  10. Anon, "Killer was upset over his divorce," The Oklahoman, June 13, 2002 [].
  11. Jay Nies, "Survivor of monastery shooting says answer to violence is 'to grow in love'," Arlington Catholic Herald, July 6, 2022 [].
  12. Patrick Marker, "Abbey Gunman's Divorce Investigated," Deception in Conception (sourced from Albany Times Union), June 13, 2002 [].
  13. Conception Abbey, 2022 []: "History" (of the Monastery), 2022 []; "History & Mission" (of the Seminary College), 2022 [].
  14. Right Rev. Benedict T. Neenan, O.S.B. (Abbot-Chancellor), "Program of Protection" (Letter from the Abbot), Conception Abbey, April 22, 2020 [].
  15. "2002 Shooting", "Conception Abbey," Wikipedia, Last edited July 2, 2021 [].
  16. Jay Kanzler (Writer, Producer, Director), "St. Benedict's Rule," Day of Fun Pictures, September 9, 2009 [].