FAIRFIELD – The death of long-serving and much-beloved Bishop David O’Connell, auxiliary of Los Angeles, is being investigated as a murder. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the development to Crux on Sunday.
Earlier reports said O’Connell’s death was being investigated as “suspicious” after LASD deputies responded to an emergency call shortly before 1pm at a house on the 1500 block of Janlu Avenue in the Hacienda Heights neighborhood, a suburb roughly 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Deputies responding to the call arrived to discover O’Connell suffering from a gunshot wound. Paramedics arrived and pronounced him dead at the scene.
“This incident is being handled as a murder investigation,” said a spokesperson for the LASD in response to queries from Crux.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles called the news “a shock” and said, “I have no words to express my sadness.”
Gomez remembered the 69-year-old native of County Cork as “a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant,” who “had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected.”
“He was also a good friend, and I will miss him greatly,” Gomez said.
O’Connell studied for the priesthood in his native Ireland, at All Hallows College in Dublin. He was ordained a priest of Los Angeles in 1979 and served in several parishes before becoming pastor of St. Frances St. Frances X. Cabrini, Ascension, St. Eugene and St. Michael’s parishes, all of which were located in south Los Angeles.
After the 1992 LA riots in the wake of the acquittal of officers who beat Rodney King, O’Connell led healing and recovery efforts in his neighborhood. He worked with other religious leaders, including those of other traditions, to rebuild trust.
Pope Francis made O’Connell an auxiliary bishop in 2015.
Faithful gathered near the scene to pray for O’Connell on Saturday, as news spread. “It broke me,” local man Johnny Flores told ABC local affiliate KABC, “and I was scared to tell my wife because my wife loved him so much.”
Another woman at the scene, Glendy Perez, told KABC O’Connell was “a humble soul” who “was not the type that would have confrontations.”
“He was very loving,” Perez said.
“Let us continue to pray for Bishop Dave and his family,” Gomez said in a statement posted to the Los Angeles archdiocesan website, “and let us pray for law enforcement officials as they continue their investigation into this terrible crime.”