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Parishioners subdue armed teenager at Louisiana children’s service

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ABBEVILLE, La. (AP) — Parishioners subdued a teenager with a gun who entered a Louisiana church during a service for dozens of young children, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Officials in the Catholic diocese are weighing new safety protocols, including the possibility of someone carrying a firearm at services, after Saturday’s confrontation at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Abbeville, a small city in the southern part of the state. Less than a week earlier, a man tried to shoot a pastor during a service at a Pennsylvania church, adding to concerns about mass shootings and other violence at religious institutions in the U.S.

The armed 16-year-old in Louisiana was wearing a mask and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up when parishioners spotted him in the church vestibule, quickly subdued him and held him outside until police arrived, said Blue Rolfes, director of communications at the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette.

Inside, about 60 second graders and their families had packed the church for the children’s First Communion.

Video footage showed altar servers running, clergy ducking for cover, and the Rev. Nicholas Dupre asking parishioners to join him in prayer.

Abbeville police said on Facebook that officers took the suspect into custody and interviewed him with a parent before taking him to a hospital behavioral health unit. He is being charged with terrorizing and two counts of possession of a firearm by a juvenile.

Chief Mike Hardy told The Acadiana Advocate the teen was there to intimidate someone, not shoot people. His girlfriend was among the parishioners, Rolfes said.

“I don’t think he had thought it through all the way,” she said.

The diocese is now discussing ways to keep its parishioners safe. Though having people carry firearms is an option, Rolfes noted the church has a high volume of services and needs to balance safety with pragmatism.

“It was one of those really isolated incidents,” she said. “The question becomes: Do you have an armed presence every single Mass?”