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Suspect breaks into rectory in small Nebraska city, stabs Catholic priest to death just hours before Sunday morning mass
Composite screenshot of Washington County Sheriff's Office statement and News Nation YouTube video (Left: Kierre L. Williams | Right: Fr. Stephen Gutgsell)

Suspect breaks into rectory in small Nebraska city, stabs Catholic priest to death just hours before Sunday morning mass

A Catholic priest in Nebraska died violently over the weekend after a suspect broke into the church rectory and repeatedly stabbed him.

At 5:05 a.m. on Sunday morning, deputies with the Washington County Sheriff's Office received a report of an attempted break-in at the rectory of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fort Calhoun, a small town of fewer than 1,000 residents about 20 miles north of Omaha. According to a statement from the sheriff's office, deputies arrived on the scene in six minutes.

Despite their speed, deputies discovered a gruesome scene: Father Stephen Gutgsell — who lived at the rectory — was suffering from multiple stab wounds, and a "black male" suspect — later identified as 43-year-old Kierre L. Williams — was still inside the building. Medics rushed Fr. Gutgsell to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he soon afterward died from his injuries.

Meanwhile, Williams was arrested and taken to the Washington County jail. He has been charged with homicide and use of a weapon to commit a felony. According to jail records, he has already been denied bond.

The usual 8:30 a.m. Sunday mass at St. John the Baptist was canceled after the attack, and Deacon Tim McNeil told WOWT that the church will remain closed for the time being. The Archdiocese of Omaha also released a statement about the "invasion at the rectory of St. John the Baptist parish":

The Archdiocese of Omaha is praying for Father Stephen Gutgsell, who was assaulted during an invasion at the rectory of St. John the Baptist parish in Fort Calhoun early Sunday morning. Father Gutgsell was transported to Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, where he died of his injuries. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is investigating, and there are no further details at this time. Please join Archbishop George Lucas in prayer for the repose of Father Gutgsell, for his family and for the St. John the Baptist parish community in this tragic time

At the time of his death, Fr. Gutgsell was an associate pastor with the archdiocese, serving at St. John the Baptist and the St. Francis Borgia parish in Blair, about nine miles away. Mike Fitzgerald, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist, called Gutgsell a "very holy man" who "did a lot of things for the community."

Other St. John the Baptist parishioners told news outlets that Fr. Gutgsell served the people faithfully for 11 years. However, if he did, he did so despite a shocking criminal conviction. In 2007, Gutgsell pled guilty to charges related to embezzling $127,000 from another church and was subsequently sentenced to probation and restitution.

After church leaders determined that Fr. Gutgsell had demonstrated sufficient contrition, he was assigned to a new church. Washington County Sheriff Mike Robinson stated that the fatal attack on Fr. Gutgsell is likely unrelated to his prior conviction.

Gutgsell's brother, Michael — who was also once a priest with the Archdiocese of Omaha — was likewise convicted of stealing from church-related coffers. In 2021, Fr. Michael Gutgsell was arrested for allegedly stealing $155,000 from "an incapacitated retired priest who had willed his estate to the archdiocese," WOWT reported.

That Fr. Gutgsell, who had power of attorney over the unnamed disabled priest, claimed at the time that he had given the money to a homeless man. He later pled no contest to two counts of attempted theft and was sentenced last summer to two years' probation. He was also relieved of his parish duties.

Catholic priest in Nebraska dies after attack in church | NewsNation Primewww.youtube.com

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Cortney Weil

Cortney Weil

Sr. Editor, News

Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News. She has a Ph.D. in Shakespearean drama, but now enjoys writing about religion, sports, and local criminal investigations. She loves God, her husband, and all things Michigan State.
@cortneyweil →