Parishioners in an Albuquerque, N.M., church who witnessed a young man go on a random and deadly knife attack Sunday described a disturbing scene to reporters and officials -- as the suspect revealed he believed the church choir was part of a Freemason conspiracy, according to police.
Witnesses told authorities that the assailant, identified by police as 24-year-old Lawrence Capener, leaped over pews and lunged at members of the choir with a sharp object at the end of morning mass at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, Capener told police he was targeting choir director Adam Alvarez, whom the suspect claims is part of the fraternal organization the Freemasons and is involved in a large-scale conspiracy.
While receiving treatment for a cut to his hand, Capener told medical staffers that the Freemasons "tapped into the radio waves of the church’s microphones to send out their message" and the devil was communicating through the microphone whenever Alvarez sang or spoke, according to police.
After attending mass at St. Jude's for three months, Capener said that on Sunday he had finally "had enough" and had to take action, authorities said.
“The quick action by the parishioners and numerous off-duty public safety personnel clearly prevented a major tragedy,” Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said in a statement. “We are grateful for the vigilance and bravery of those who undoubtedly put their lives at risk.”
Capener stabbed people at the altar repeatedly, sending four churchgoers to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, according to authorities.
Brenda Baca, the choir's pianist, told NBC affiliate KOB-TV that the church erupted in chaos as parishioners rushed to shield members of the choir from the attacker.
“People were running. People were screaming,” Baca told KOB-TV. “Men were flocking down to the choir loft trying to protect us. It was unbelievable.”
Parishioners grabbed hold of Capener and pinned him to the floor until police officers arrived at the scene shortly after 12 p.m., according to police spokesperson Tasia Martinez.
Four parishioners were wounded in the attack, including choir director Adam Alvarez and flutist Gerald Madrid. All the victims are in stable condition.
Madrid, who spoke to KOB-TV from his hospital bed late Sunday, said he "instinctively" charged at Capener during the rampage.
“I instinctively dropped my flute and I rushed the guy,” Madrid told the station. “I rushed him. I never saw a knife, but I just rushed him. I bear-hugged him. We were chest on chest … I had just my arms around his chest, so his arms were free, so that’s when he started stabbing me.”
Madrid said he initially thought the suspect was simply punching him. But when other parishioners lunged at Capener, Madrid discovered that he had been stabbed five times -- including once just inches from his spine.
“I was fading in and out. I really thought I was going to die. But if I’m going to die there’s no other place I’d rather be at than my church,” Madrid told the station.
Capener was booked late Sunday on three counts of aggravated battery and ordered held on $75,000 bail, according to The Associated Press.
Valerie Schalow, who attended services with her family, told KOB-TV that her husband thought “something was wrong” with Capener after he shook his hand earlier in the service.
“His hands were so clammy and wet,” Schalow told the station. “My husband went and washed his hands and I couldn’t understand why he went. But later on, he told me that he knew something was wrong with this guy.”