District Attorney Marsha King Purdue described the deceased—44-year-old Joseph Berg—as “a deeply troubled man” who had been drinking heavily before attending the 4 p.m. mass on June 28. She said his blood-alcohol level was about three times higher than the legal limit for drivers in New York State.
“Midway through the mass, Mr. Berg loudly exited the church, slamming the door as he left,” Purdue said in a news release today. “Soon thereafter, a loud noise, described by several parishioners as a gunshot, was heard emanating from outside of the church. Near the conclusion of the mass, Mr. Berg returned to the church and, as Father Allen said, ‘Let us pray,’ thereby concluding the mass, Mr. Berg moved down the center aisle and yelled, ‘Why don’t you fucking pray for me?’”
When Berg reached the altar, Purdue said, he threw candles, candleholders, and other items at the congregation, striking two parishioners. He then “moved menacingly” toward the priest, 80-year-old Philip T. Allen, and an 11-year-old altar girl.
Several parishioners wrestled Berg to the ground, and one grabbed a semiautomatic pistol that Berg had in his rear waistband, according to Purdue.
“Mr. Berg suddenly stopped struggling and he was observed not to be breathing,” Purdue said. Attempts by parishioners, police, and medical personnel to revive him failed.
“His death, although a tragic event, was not a crime and, as a result, I see no basis on which to convene a grand jury to hear the uncontroverted evidence revealed during this investigation,” Purdue.
Purdue conducted the investigation with the state police and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department.
Photo of Marsha King Purdue by Phil Brown.