LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Police were hunting for a gunman or gunmen who killed one priest and injured another at a Catholic church in Arizona.
The priest who survived was able to give the last rites to his fatally-hit colleague before he died, police told reporters after the mystery attack on Wednesday night in Phoenix.
An intruder or intruders broke into the Mother of Mercy church around 9.30pm local time on Wednesday. A 911 emergency call for burglary was made by Father Joseph Terra, as he comforted his dying colleague, Father Kenneth Walker.
"How can a person break into a church? How can a person assault a man of the cloth? How can a person take a person's life, especially a priest? It's sad," said local councillor Mike Nowakowski.
Phoenix police chief Daniel Garcia said investigators had some "strong physical evidence", but no eyewitness accounts and no knowledge of how many intruders were involved.
"At this point, we have no information as to whether it's a suspect or suspects," he told reporters, adding: "It was called in as a burglary, but I want to be cautious to label anything."
The two clerics had lived at the church for four years, and Father Walker was "a pretty strong man", said Father Fred Adamson of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, who confirmed that Father Terra had given the last rights to his colleague.
"Father Terra was able to absolve him and to offer the last rites, obviously a great deal of comfort and consolation to us as Catholics. He was able to extend that in his own suffering," he said.
The attack comes after a spate of shootings which led President Barack Obama to warn that America needs to do some "soul-searching" on gun control, which remains relatively lax despite regular gun rampages.
On May 23, a student with mental problems killed six people and then himself on a college campus in California, while on June 5, a gunman killed one person and injured two others on on campus in Seattle. Then in the last week, a couple with possible anti-government militia links shot dead two police and a civilian in Las Vegas, and a teenage gunman shot a 14-year-old old student dead at an Oregon high school.