church service Tuesday, before fleeing the scene to a nearby house on Long Island, New York, police officials told reporters.
The priest, identified as 50-year old Rev. Lawrence Penzes, was reportedly shot in the back while celebrating the 9 a.m. local time Catholic Mass with about 40 believers. Police officials quoted by the Cable News Network (CNN) said he was rushed to Mercy Hospital in Rockville Center, but the medical staff was unable to save his life.
As he was pronounced dead at 10:06 AM local time, a manhunt began to find the assailant, described as a white male in his thirties. The Associated Press (AP) news agency said that police in riot gear quickly surrounded a nearby house where the gunmen was believed to be holed up.
Earlier a parishioner and an off-duty policeman chased him and were able to wrestle the rifle away from him as he tried to flee the church building. Soon after believers tried to come to terms to what had happened in The Rockville Center diocese, which encompasses Nassau and Suffolk counties, and is home to an estimated 1.5 million Catholics.
The Rev. Robert McGuire, who worked with Penzes at St. Pius X church in Plainview in the late 1980s, told AP that the priest was "a very outgoing guy and a very, very generous man." It was not immediately clear what the motives were behind the shooting.
Penzes had been the pastor at the church since 1994 and was a chaplain for the Air Force and the Lynbrook Police Department, CNN said.