PHOENIX — Two priests were shot, one fatally, in an attack at a Roman Catholic church in downtown Phoenix Wednesday night, with the injured priest administering last rites to his dying friend as police officers rushed to the scene.
Police had no suspects or solid leads as of Thursday afternoon. They searched the neighborhood, interviewed the injured priest, and examined physical evidence from the scene. Investigators said they are unsure how many attackers were involved and if robbery was the motive for the attack.
A 2003 Mazda belonging to the Rev. Kenneth Walker, who was killed in the shooting, was found abandoned a few blocks from the church.
Police were investigating whether the suspect or suspects took the vehicle and left it behind following the crime. Authorities were examining the vehicle for clues.
Police Chief Daniel Garcia called the nighttime attack a ‘‘tragic and appalling criminal violation.’’
As police investigated the crime scene at the church, about a dozen parishioners gathered across the street, kneeling on the sidewalk and reciting the rosary in response to the loss of their beloved clergyman.
A bouquet of flowers and a photograph of Walker, 28, lay on the sidewalk.
The Rev. Joseph Terra, 56, was hospitalized in critical condition with unspecified injuries. The two priests lived at the church.
Terra called 911 to report a burglary at the Mother of Mercy Mission near the state Capitol around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and administered last rites to the wounded clergyman while waiting for police to arrive.
The Rev. Fred Adamson, vicar general of the Phoenix Archdiocese, said the act of last rites brought a ‘‘great deal of comfort and consolation to us as Catholics that he was able to extend that in his own suffering.’’
Parishioner Diane Harmon sobbed as she spoke of Walker and Terra and the ‘‘senseless acts of cruelty’’ that were carried out.
‘‘They will be truly missed in this parish. Very peaceful people, very peaceful men, loving, kind and charitable,’’ Harmon said.
‘‘They are truly concerned about the sanctity of souls and saving souls,’’ she added. ‘‘It’s hard to imagine, but that’s unfortunately the society we’re living in, a godless society. It’s lawless.’’
Mayor Greg Stanton said the city was shocked and saddened as police pleaded for the public’s help in identifying the suspects.
‘‘The tragedy that occurred last night at the Mother of Mercy Mission strikes at our core, because every American should feel safe in a house of worship,” Stanton said. “And that basic value was violated last night in an unspeakable way.’’
Terra and Walker served as pastor and assistant pastor, respectively, at the church, which is located along a gritty stretch of downtown Phoenix. Adamson said both men believed the church was a safe place to live.
‘‘Father Terra is a pretty strong man,” Adamson said Thursday. “He’s not afraid of anybody.’’
The two priests belonged to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and one of its hallmarks is leading Mass in Latin for worshipers.
Rorate Caeli, an online blog widely read in Vatican circles, said Walker was born in upstate New York, near Poughkeepsie, and was the middle child among a family of 11 children. He was ordained in May 2012.