Black Louisiana priest hospitalized after machete attack, race cited as possible motive

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A Catholic priest is in critical but stable condition after he was attacked on the grounds of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Melville, Louisiana, Thursday evening.

Father Stephen Ugwu, the church pastor, was allegedly approached by 58-year-old Johnny Dwayne Neely of Palmetto, Louisiana, the suspect in the case.

Witnesses said that between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. they saw Neely approach the priest and ask him for food. When the priest refused him, he began to attack the priest with a machete, police said, according to KLFY News.

Ugwu was taken to an area hospital and is being treated for lacerations to his head and body. 

St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Neely faces charges of attempted second-degree murder, hate crimes, and home invasion.

Authorities reported that Neely said he “wanted to kill a black man today,” KLFY News reported. Melville Police Chief Phillip Lucas said his department is seeking FBI assistance in the case.

The Diocese of Lafayette confirmed the attack and asked for continued prayers.

“Father Ugwu was transported to an area hospital and is in stable condition. The Melville Police Department is handling the investigation,” Blue Rolfes, director of communications of the Diocese of Lafayette, said in a statement. “We wish to thank all who have been praying for Father Ugwu and request that you continue to do so.”

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