PELHAM, N.H. — A church wedding exploded into violence Saturday morning, as a man wielding a handgun shot the pastor and the bride before guests piled onto him like linebackers, holding the shooter until officers arrived and arrested him, according to officials.
Bishop Stanley Choate, 75, pastor at New England Pentecostal Ministries, was shot in the upper chest, and Claire McMullen, 60, was shot in the arm, according to Benjamin J. Agati, a New Hampshire senior assistant attorney general.
Their alleged assailant, Dale Holloway, 37, was arrested and charged with first-degree assault on Choate, who is at Tufts Medical Center in Boston in serious condition, Agati said. McMullen did not require surgery and was in good condition at a local hospital, Agati said.
“We solicit your prayers at this time for the family,” the church said in a message posted on its website. “The family would plead with everyone to refrain from any acts of violence. That is not what the Bishop would want.”
Choate’s shooting was the second tragedy to strike the church community in less than two weeks. On Oct. 1, the Rev. Luis Garcia, 60, another minister there, was shot and killed in Londonderry, allegedly by a young man the clergyman had tried to help. Brandon Castiglione, 24, faces a second-degree murder charge for allegedly killing Garcia inside the Castiglione family home.
A death notice for Garcia published in the Globe on Oct. 7 said he was survived by a stepson, Dale Holloway.
Officials did not disclose the relationship between Holloway and Garcia.
Authorities are investigating whether the shooting at the wedding Saturday was related to the killing of Garcia, whose funeral was scheduled for noon at the church, Agati said.
The bridegroom Saturday was Mark Castiglione, 60, who Agati said is apparently the father of Brandon Castiglione.
Mark Castiglione was struck in the head with an object during the melee Saturday, Agati said, and was treated at a local hospital and released.
No one answered the door at the Castiglione home Saturday afternoon.
Holloway also faces alternative counts of purposely and knowingly causing bodily injury by means of a deadly weapon for shooting Choate, Agati said. He is expected to be arraigned Tuesday in Hillsborough Superior Court in Nashua. Agati said additional charges may be filed.
Neivia Choate, who identified herself as a niece of Stanley Choate, asked for prayers in a Facebook post.
“A coward walked into my family’s church today at NEP New England Pentecostal Church and shot my uncle Bishop Stanley Choate,” she wrote. “I call for anyone that knows and believes and In the GOD we serve to get on your knees and pray for my family.”
Other family members could not be reached or declined to comment.
Pelham police Chief Joseph Roark said officers received a call at 10:12 a.m. reporting an active shooter inside the church at 955 Bridge St., and arrived within 3 minutes to find that a wedding had been going on and that guests were subduing the suspect.
“My understanding is they basically gang-tackled him,” Roark said. “There was a struggle [that] ensued. Minor injuries occurred to the other guests who were in the struggle with the shooter.”
The police chief said of the gunman, “The suspect arrived after the wedding began.”
“This does not seem to be a random event at this point,” Roark said, adding that the state’s attorney general and State Police Major Crimes Unit would lead the investigation.
Roark said authorities were investigating whether the gunman targeted specific people. “We have a lot of witnesses to interview, as you might expect,” he said, estimating that there had been about 40 wedding guests.
As anxious families waited for relatives who had been at the wedding to be released by police, Matilyn Glenn said her mother, Vanessa Glenn, was acting as an usher when gunfire erupted as Choate officiated the wedding.
“My mom’s not hurt. Thank God. I just need to get to her,” said Glenn, who spoke in the parking lot of Gage Hill Farm Convenience, near a detour sign erected to keep people away from the crime scene. “She was crying. She was hysterical.”
A cashier at the store said police vehicles from neighboring communities headed toward the church after 10 a.m.
“When another town comes into Pelham, New Hampshire, there’s something up,” said Brian, the cashier, who declined to give his last name.
A short time later, he said, family members of those locked down inside the church began showing up at the store, explaining that they couldn’t reach their relatives by phone and couldn’t access the building because the road had been closed. One woman said she feared her husband had been shot, Brian said.
“I was devastated,” he said. “You really think about how you feel when you hear something like that in a little town like Pelham.”
The shootings were a second shock for mourners who went to the church for Garcia’s funeral.
Geraldo Pagan, 54, of Methuen, was among those turned away. Pagan said he and Garcia grew up neighbors in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, and he was “in shock” after he learned of his old friend’s death through a Facebook post by Garcia’s wife.
Donna and Norman MacIver, of Weymouth, said Garcia was the best man at their wedding. The MacIvers had driven to Pelham for Garcia’s service and were shocked to find a crime scene.
“We were trying to actually get in the parking lot. . . . We could see the traffic and the flashing lights, so we thought it was a detour, but when we got closer, it was this,” said Donna MacIver, as she stood amid the flashing lights of police cars.
She said Garcia was a clergyman devoted to his congregation.
“He ministered to his parishioners,” she said. “He was caring; he was compassionate. If you had a problem, he would try and help you. That’s the kind of person he was.”