A man walked into the Crystal Cathedral on Wednesday morning (2/18/2009), handed a church greeter a note, then knelt in front of a cross and shot himself in the head, leaving him dead at the altar, police said.
The coroner’s office identified the man Wednesday afternoon as Steve Smick, 48. It released no further details about him. Police said his last known address was in Whittier, but they were investigating whether he had moved since then.
Police received a 911 call from the church, at 13280 Chapman Ave., reporting shots fired at 9:40 a.m., said Garden Grove police Lt. Dennis Ellsworth.
Greeters at the church said a man had shot himself in the head inside the main church.
Betty Spicer, one of the greeters, said she welcomed the man as he entered the church asking him where he was from.
The man, who had long hair and was “a bit unkempt,” responded, “Around here,” Spicer said.
Then he handed her a piece of paper folded over, with his driver’s license inside. “He was in a hurry,” Spicer said.
The note, in bold marker, indicated he’d parked a pickup in the parking lot and had borrowed a gun from a friend, Spicer said.
The man went to the front of the church, knelt in front of a large gold cross, reached into a backpack and then put the gun to his head.
Spicer said she thought the man was praying before she heard a loud pop.
The man had a semi-automatic handgun and fired one round to his head, Lt. Ellsworth said.
Church greeter Yvette Manson was conducting a tour with six guests from Canada. She was just telling the guest about the church’s around-the-clock suicide prevention services, Manson said, when she heard the loud pop.
Manson had her back to the cross and told the guests, “Oh, guess what? One of our windows blew out.”
But the tourists, who were facing the cross, informed her that the man had just shot himself, she said.
Witnesses called 911 for help. The man was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Police found his pickup and were searching it for clues. The church remained taped off Wednesday afternoon as police continued to investigate.
Church officials worked with police to run the man’s name through their records, but found no previous connection to the church, said Crystal Cathedral spokesman Michael Nason.
The church was expecting 750 visitors from a nearby Chick-fil-a restaurant convention who were scheduled to tour the sanctuary. Officials were scrambling to find a new meeting place.
The church dealt with another suicide in December 2004, when the church’s orchestra director, Johnnie Carl, shot himself. Carl suffered from bipolar disorder and had stopped taking his medication.
Bill Gaultiere, a psychologist who heads the church’s New Hope counseling ministry and suicide prevention effort, said he counseled and prayed with the tourists and ushers after Wednesday’s shooting.
He urged them to focus on the fact that the man sought Christ in his final moments rather than focusing on lingering tragic images.
“This man who died was suffering, he was in the midst of despair and confusion,” he said.
Gaultiere said that suicides tend to spike this time of year. Some people hang on through the holidays and attempt to begin anew in January only to find themselves in the same situation by mid-February, he said.
The Canadian tourists were interviewed by police and remained at the scene for about an hour.
Tourists from across the globe visit the campus 24 hours a day, said James Kok, pastor of care ministries for the church. It’s a popular stop for large groups on their way to local tourist attractions.
Tourists, congregation members and employees gathered outside the church in clusters in the hours following the shooting.
Kok routinely approached visitors who arrived Wednesday only to find reporters huddled at the closed entrance to the church.
“I think they need to know what’s happening and be greeted by a human being,” he said.