Gunman wounds 3 outside California church

May 17, 2008 5:47:04 PM PDT
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.

"I heard bang, bang, bang, bang. It sounded like balloons popping," said Jeff Sempelsz, a church volunteer who was setting up a booth when the man started shooting. "I didn't know what it was but I could see the rifle in his hand."

Father Robert Milbauer, the parish's pastor, said a woman injured in the attack was the gunman's ex-wife. The two have a child who attends the school and had been mired in an ongoing dispute, Ruiz said.

"We believe this is an isolated incident, a domestic-violence dispute," police Capt. Steven Ruiz said.

The gunman's identity was not immediately released.

He opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle a few minutes before the church's annual weekend festival was to begin. Milbauer said about 50 people, mainly church volunteers and their children, were setting up food and game booths and carnival-style rides when the gunfire erupted.

"I was walking toward the festival area to say an opening prayer and I saw them," Milbauer said of the shooting victims.

The man's 30-year-old ex-wife was hospitalized in stable condition, Ruiz said.

A 45-year-old man was shot in the chest and was in critical condition and another man, 47, was in stable condition with a leg wound, Ruiz said.

Their identities were not immediately released.

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.

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.