CHATHAM, New Jersey – An arrest in the brutal murder of a Roman Catholic priest has brought little comfort to the spirital leader's close-knit hometown, which widely views the suspected role of the longtime church janitor as a second tragedy.
More than 150 people at St. Patrick's Church for Sunday's early Mass prayed for the Rev. Ed Hinds, whose body was discovered in the church rectory Friday, and for Jose Feliciano, who is charged with stabbing the priest 32 times with a kitchen knife.
"This is a tragedy for this community," the Rev. Owen Moran said after leading Mass. "It's a tragedy for Father Ed and his family, and it's a tragedy for the Feliciano family."
Authorities say the murder occurred at about 5 p.m. Thursday after an argument between Hinds and Feliciano in the rectory.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi told CNN that the two men argued "over Feliciano's continued employment." He said Hinds dialed the police emergency dispatcher from his cell phone and said he was being attacked and needed help. The call was cut off. The emergency dispatch operator called back and Feliciano answered and said "everything's fine," Bianchi said. The operator wasn't able to send authorities because the calls from the cell phone could not be traced, he said.
Bianchi said investigators found the priest's cell phone, bloody clothing and bloody towels at Feliciano's home in Easton, Pennsylvania, about 45 miles (72.4 kilometers) west of Chatham.
"It's just not believable," said parishioner Dan Langborgh, 47, who lives across the street from the church. "Jose is a very nice guy who has been around for many years. He's the last person I would have suspected."
Feliciano had worked at the church 17 years and his family is part of the parish. His son is a graduate of the church school, which runs from kindergarten through 8th grade, and his daughter is a student there.
Hinds, who was born in nearby Morristown, had been St. Patrick's pastor since 2003. He was also a regular sight in the neighborhood, where he walked Copper, his cocker spaniel.
Bianchi said Feliciano and another man found the body Friday after Hinds failed to show up for 8 a.m. Mass. Bianchi said Feliciano was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the priest when officers arrived and his halfhearted attempts struck them as suspicious.
Hinds was dressed in his clerical robes and appeared to be brewing coffee in the rectory kitchen at the time. He sustained wounds to his upper torso, the back of his body and his head from a kitchen knife, officials said. Hinds also had defensive wounds on his hands and face, Bianchi said. An autopsy determined the cause of death was severe trauma.
The slaying rocked the New York City bedroom community of about 10,000 residents, where the last violent death occurred in 1990. The median family income is $132,000 and authorities and residents had initially suspected that Hinds died at the hands of a needy outsider who had come to him for help.
"Everyone thought it was an outsider because Father Hinds always opened the church to the needy," Langborgh said.
Parishioners learned of Feliciano's arrest Saturday near the end of 5 p.m. Mass.
Parishioner Juliette Peros told the Star Ledger of Newark that several people cried when the announcement was made and a woman seated behind her yelled, "Jose! No, Jose!"
"It's so sad," said parishioner Pat Patello, 52. "I don't think this town will ever get over this."