NEW YORK – A 61-year-old Hispanic man from Torrance, California, who had a work connection to Bishop David O’Connell was arrested Feb. 20 as the main suspect in the Los Angeles auxiliary bishop’s murder, according to local authorities.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna announced at a news conference that the suspect, Carlos Medina, surrendered and was taken into custody without incident at his home at approximately 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 20 after a standoff with authorities.
Medina’s wife was O’Connell’s housekeeper, and he had also previously worked at O’Connell’s residence, Luna said. The sheriff later clarified that while Medina may have worked for O’Connell, they’re “still trying to figure out what the relationship was.”
“Our priority before 8:00 this morning was to apprehend this suspect, and we did, by some amazing detective work,” Luna said. “Our next priority is to get him prosecuted.”
A visibly emotional Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles also spoke at the Feb. 20 news conference where Medina’s arrest was announced. He recognized O’Connell’s more than 40 years serving Los Angeles, and remembered him as a “man of peace” in the community.
“Everyday [Bishop O’Connell] worked to show compassion to the poor, to the homeless, to the immigrant, and to all those living on society’s margins,” Gomez said. “He was a good priest, and a good bishop, and a man of peace, and we are very sad to lose him.”
“In what is a sad and painful moment for all of us, thank you again for your concern and regards, and please, let’s keep praying for Bishop Dave and his family, and let us keep praying for our law enforcement officials as they continue the investigation,” he continued.
O’Connell was found dead in his Hacienda Heights home on Feb. 18. He was discovered by authorities in his bedroom, having suffered at least one gunshot wound to the upper body. The incident became a murder investigation the next morning after homicide investigators responded to the scene, Luna said.
Later that morning, detectives discovered surveillance footage that showed a vehicle that had pulled into the bishop’s driveway, stayed for a short time and then left. A tip then led them to Medina, who drove an SUV similar to the one described, and the tipster noted “they were concerned because Medina had been acting strange, irrational, and making comments about the bishop owing him money,” according to Luna.
The sheriff later clarified that he is not certain of any dispute between Medina and O’Connell, but said that it is something that “the detectives will investigate.” A motive remains unclear, Luna added.
After identifying Medina as the suspect, authorities got a warrant for his arrest and went to his residence early on Feb. 20. After a period of refusing calls from authorities for his surrender, Medina exited his residence at approximately 8:15 a.m. and was taken into custody without further incident, Luna said.
Two firearms and other evidence possibly linking Medina to the crime were recovered, Luna added. The firearms will be examined and tested by authorities to determine if either was used in the murder.
Certain facts remain unknown, including O’Connell’s exact time of death, what led to the shooting, and how exactly Medina got into O’Connell’s home. Luna also noted that so far O’Connell’s housekeeper, Medina’s wife, has cooperated with investigators, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of charges for her in the future, saying “at this point early on in the investigation anything’s a possibility.’
Speaking after Luna, Janice Hahn, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the 4th District, announced all of the county’s flags will be lowered to half-staff in O’Connell’s honor, calling his heart “boundless.”
“The County of Los Angeles has lost a partner in our work to help those in need, and the world has lost a force for goodness, and kindness,” Hahn said. “It’s unthinkable that his life came to an end so tragically.”
Born in County Cork, Ireland in 1953, O’Connell was ordained to serve in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1979, and has been there ever since gaining a reputation as a peacemaker in the community, who reached out to all those on the margins. Pope Francis made him an auxiliary bishop in 2015.
Two days after his murder, the tributes to O’Connell continued from around the Catholic world.
Bishop Fintan Gavin of Cork and Ross, Ireland – O’Connell’s native diocese – said the news has sent “shockwaves” throughout the community.
“On behalf of the people, priests and religious of the Diocese of Cork and Ross, and on my own behalf, I wish to express my sympathies and prayerful support to the O’Connell family in Cork, to Archbishop José H Gomes and the people, priests and religious of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Gavin said.
“We will pray for Bishop David at Mass throughout the Diocese of Cork and Ross in the coming days asking the Lord to comfort his family, his colleagues and all the bereaved,” he continued. “Bishop David worked tirelessly for peace and harmony in communities; may he now rest in the peace of the Lord.”
Another tributer came from Bishop Robert Barron who was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles seven years ago alongside O’Connell before he was appointed to the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in June of last year.
“From the moment I met him, I was struck by his goodness, kindness, prayerfulness, and simplicity of heart. Throughout the course of my years in the LA Archdiocese, Bishop Dave was a constant source of support, encouragement, and good humor,” Barron said.
“He dedicated his priesthood to serving the poor. I can honestly say that he was one of the most Christ-like men I’ve known,” Barron continued. “May he rest in peace.”
Medina’s age has been updated, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Department records.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg