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Man shoots self inside Crystal Cathedral [UPDATED]

February 18, 2009 | 11:43 am

Jim Coleman, center, hugs ushers Yvette Manson, left, and Betty Spicer, who were in the Crystal Cathedral sanctuary when a man apparently shot himself in front of the cross. A man walked into the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove this morning, knelt down at the foot of a cross and fatally shot himself in the head, police said.

Police were called to the church at 9:40 a.m. in response to a shooting, Garden Grove Police Lt. Dennis Ellsworth said. The incident is being investigated as a suicide. The man was not immediately identified, but police said he was a white male in his 40s last known to have lived in Whittier.

The man walked into the sanctuary area of the church and handed over a handwritten note. He then walked to the front of the pews, knelt in front of the cross and removed a semiautomatic handgun from a backpack. He put the weapon to his head and pulled the trigger.

Betty Spicer, a volunteer greeter at the cathedral, said the sanctuary of church was nearly empty except for a group of Canadian tourists.

"I said, 'Good morning, welcome to the Crystal Cathedral.' " She asked the man, "Where are you from?" He replied, "Oh, from around here." He handed her a folded note written in magic marker. In the middle of the note was his driver's license and what appeared to be a business card. As he was walking down the aisle, she began reading the note, which referred to a truck in the parking lot and a gun. "The next minute, there was a pop," Spicer said. "I thought he was praying. I didn't realize he had shot himself."

Updated at 11:55 a.m.: Yvette Manson, a volunteer usher, said she was talking to the tourists when she heard a shot that she likened to a firecracker. "I had just been telling them about the suicide prevention ministry we have."

Pastor Juan Carlos Ortiz said the suicide was tragic but may have revealed something about the man's faith. "This must be a person who believes in God because he went to the foot of the cross," Ortiz said.

Updated at 12:10 p.m.: Michael Nason, a spokesman for the Crystal Cathedral, said church staffers checked for the man's name in their records but could not find any mention of him being a member, employee or former staff member.

"It's very tragic. He must have felt that he needed comfort," Nason said. "And he chose the church for that comfort. Unfortunately, it didn't end well."

The Garden Grove church, started by the Rev. Robert Schuller, has more than 8,000 members. The sanctuary, known for its towering glass architecture, is home to the "Hour of Power" television program. It can hold about 3,000 people and hosts hundreds of visitors a day.

Other than the two greeters, the only people in the church at the time were seven Canadian tourists who witnessed the shooting.

-- Tony Barboza and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Jim Coleman, center, hugs ushers Yvette Manson, left, and Betty Spicer, who were in the Crystal Cathedral sanctuary when a man apparently shot himself in front of a cross.  The man handed Spicer a note that mentioned a gun and a pickup truck and proceeded into the church. 

Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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