Murder at the altar Priest, parishioner shot dead in Lynbrook church; gunman arrested

      "We believe the priest was the target," Homicide Det. Sgt. Herb Daub said on Wednesday afternoon. "He was the intended victim."
      But police continue to seek a motive in the case, trying to determine why someone would want to shoot a priest.      
      The Rev. Lawrence Penzes, 50, and Eileen Tosner, 73, were killed in the shootings, which occurred shortly after 9 a.m. Witnesses said the priest had just finished reading the homily when he was gunned down.
      After fleeing the church, the gunman barricaded himself in his nearby apartment for the next seven hours. The gunman's standoff with police ended when six to eight police officers stormed the suspect's home at 56 Fowler Avenue, where he was holed up inside.
       He was arrested after lunging at police with a folding-knife, attempting to stab them, officials said. The suspect was identified as Peter Troy, 34, who was charged with two counts of murder in the second degree, and one count of attempted murder. He was arraigned on the charges on Wednesday before District Court Judge Steven Jaeger, and held without bail, authorities said. His next court date is scheduled for March 15.
      A motive for the shooting remains a mystery as of Wednesday, police said.
      Those present at the Mass emerged from the church terrified and shaken, having witnessed one of the most horrific events ever to occur in Lynbrook.
      "I heard the shots, three shots, and somebody yelled, 'Down,' so I got down," said Stephanie Renkowski, who regularly attends the morning worship and was sitting in the second row when the blasts deafened the room. Police said the suspect fired six shots from the rifle.
      After the shooting, Renkowski was standing with friends in a back parking lot of the church.
      "I saw Father Larry go down," she said. "We ran up on the altar and started praying over [him]."
      Police said the gunman had entered the church through the main entrance on Merrick Road. Pulling a rifle from the folds of his coat, he shot from the rear of the nave and hit Penzes and Tosner. Without a word, he fled the same way he had come in, police said.
      According to police, two parishioners chased after the gunman as he ran up Fowler Avenue, the road that runs adjacent to Our Lady of Peace. One of the men was Gary Gnack, an off-duty Lynbrook police lieutenant, who officials said helped secure the scene. Another man, Gerry Denk, whose wife said he is an ex-Marine, apparently wrestled the gun from the suspect as he fled.
      But the gunman managed to make it to the home at 56 Fowler Avenue, where police said he rents an apartment, and locked himself inside.
      In the meantime, some of the 25 to 40 parishioners at the worship service performed CPR on Penzes as he lay bleeding on the altar, but their efforts were unsuccessful as he went into cardiac arrest.
      "I think it's very likely he died on the altar," said Dr. Dana Monaco, the attending physician at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre. She said the efforts to resuscitate Penzes, who arrived at the hospital around 9:50 a.m., was called off within minutes as it was clear he could not be saved. Monaco said the bullet entered through Penzes' back and most likely traveled through his heart before it exited through his chest and lodged in his left arm.
      Tosner was pronounced dead at the scene. Officials said she was shot in the head.
      At least one parishioner, an elderly woman, was rushed to a nearby hospital as she fell into shock at the site of the killings.
      As the day unfolded, investigators were not positive the gunman was actually in the house on Fowler. There were possible sightings, but no communication. By noon, three other residents in the house had been evacuated and the stakeout continued. Then, at around 4 p.m., there was a report of a man moving downstairs and police, led by the Nassau County Special Operations division, made their move.
      Breaking down the front door, officers stormed into the home only to meet the gunman lunging at them with a folding-knife in his hand. A tangle ensued as officers tackled the man, but nobody was hurt in the melee and police took him into custody.
      Initial reports that the man was a former employee who was angry because he was fired from his church job were erroneous. Police later said he was never employed by the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
      "There's no apparent relationship between him [Troy] and the church," Sgt. Daub said. "This is going to be a lengthy investigation."
      The news of the shootings spread throughout Lynbrook as news agencies and helicopters descended on the village. District schools were locked down and dozens of worried parents made their way to Our Lady of Peace to check on their children who were in the middle of a regular school day.
      Lamya Clark said she was in the school talking with the Deacon after having dropped off her kids for class.
      "We heard screaming; we ran to the church and we saw Fr. Larry as he fell," she said. "Everybody was shocked."
      As a precaution, superintendents in Valley Stream's four school districts authorized a lockdown in all 10 elementary schools and four high schools. Students in the Central High School District as well as elementary Districts 13, 24, and 30 were not permitted to leave their school buildings until their scheduled dismissal times, which began after 2 p.m.