YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A church community haunted by the parking-lot shooting death of an 80-year-old member is mourning the killing of another elderly parishioner minutes after leaving church.
Someone fired up to a dozen shots at Thomas Repchic, 75, as he drove from church Saturday with his 74-year-old wife, who was wounded but expected to recover. The couple had just left St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church, where Jacqueline Repchic works in the office on Saturdays.
Detectives believe the couple may have been victims of mistaken identity, Youngstown Capt. Rod Foley said. Investigators do not believe the shooting was random and think it was gang-related, but no arrests have been made.
"We're working on a theory that it was misidentification," Foley said. "Common sense is going to tell you, why would you want to target a 75-year-old man and 74-year-old lady?"
Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes said police believe the suspects were targeting a Cadillac — the same car the couple was driving.
"It was just wrong place, wrong time, wrong car," Hughes said.
Authorities had an alert out Monday for a suspected getaway car, an older red Dodge Durango.
Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, who represents the south Youngstown area where the shootings occurred, said the city is shaken by Saturday's killing, January's shooting outside St. Dominic and last week's strangling of a real estate agent showing a home in another neighborhood.
"The mood of the community is we're just outraged," said Tarpley, who arranged a neighborhood meeting Monday to discuss the crime situation.
Youngstown, with a population of about 73,000, shrunk by more than half in the last four decades amid job losses, especially in the once-dominant steel industry. Mayor Jay Williams has pushed a campaign to clear away vacant houses and buildings to open up space to make Youngstown greener, cleaner and safer.
The church is located in a working-class neighborhood of older homes, some fixed up but others boarded up and abandoned.
The area is blanketed with police officers day and night, Hughes said, and the police presence has been beefed up since the weekend shooting. On Monday afternoon, Hughes met with the pastor, Rev. Gregory Maturi, to discuss the ongoing investigation.
"Obviously this is a shock for them at the church," Hughes said. "The victim had been a longtime member there."
Bishop George Murry of the Youngstown Diocese called the shootings a horrific tragedy.
"It is compounded by the appalling fact that this is the second parishioner of St. Dominic Parish to be murdered this year," he said in a statement. He asked for prayers for the victims and called on people to help create safe communities.
In January, a gunman killed Angeline Fimognari in the church parking lot after Mass during an apparent purse robbery. A 19-year-old has been charged in her death. Two men are charged in the real estate agent's death.
The Repchic attack occurred as he drove his Cadillac home in the early afternoon, and Tarpley wonders if the car was mistaken for someone else's. Six to 12 gunshots were fired.
The car crashed four blocks from the church, an area where many homes are derelict. Some commercial outlets up the street are boarded up.
Tarpley urged crime-weary residents to put aside fear and report anything suspicious to police, particularly attacks on the elderly, which she blamed on young thugs.
"I'm sure they're stronger, younger. They prey upon the elderly. We're angry," she said.
Williams has offered a $10,000 reward for information in the latest attack. He told The Vindicator newspaper that the shootings were sickening and disheartening.
Robert Shaw lives several blocks from the latest shooting scene, but didn't want to mention his address to avoid being targeted by criminals. He said the latest killings would spur urban flight.
"So much is going on, drug activity, immorality," said Shaw, 37. "Youngstown's going under."
Robert Edmonds, who lives four streets away from the latest shooting, blamed young thugs.
"These young boys between the age of 18 and 25 ... they want to be gangsters," he said.
Edmonds, 57, said his block is mostly safe, in part because neighbors watch out for each other.
Edmonds said the city should extend an anti-crime drive mounted during the summer to a year-round operation. "There should be zero tolerance," he said.
Associated Press Writer Meghan Barr contributed to this report from Cleveland.