Clues sought in Md. in probe of blast that injured rector Ala. clergyman had left church in St. Michaels

April 03, 1996|By Dail Willis and Michael James | Dail Willis and Michael James,SUN STAFF

ST. MICHAELS -- When the Rev. Michael D. Schnatterly picked up a U-Haul box sitting on his car New Year's Day in Opelika, Ala., the blast that followed injured him and shook up the Episcopalians in this placid, picturesque town.

Father Schnatterly, who was a curate for four years at Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish before becoming rector at an Opelika church, has no idea why someone would try to kill him. Neither do his former parishioners, and apparently, neither do federal investigators at this time. No arrests have been made.

But the investigators keep coming back to Maryland, St. Michaels residents say. The Easton Star-Democrat reported last week that investigators had found a slip of paper that listed a telephone number for a federally funded jobs program housed on the Talbot County campus of Chesapeake College. That discovery brought investigators back to Maryland for the third time, the newspaper reported.

A spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said yesterday that the bombing probe has taken investigators outside Alabama. But he declined to say where.

"We're following leads in several areas around the country," said Agent Larry Washington, a spokesman at the ATF national headquarters in Washington.

The experts are not the only ones trying to puzzle out why someone would try to harm Father Schnatterly. Those who attend the historic gray stone church that dominates Talbot Street are also speculating what connection, if any, the bomber has to the Eastern Shore.

The prevailing view seems to be that the investigators have little to go on and found even less in St. Michaels as they probed Father Schnatterly's past.

"I told them, 'I can't believe it's Michael; you must be making a mistake,' " said Gloria Etherton, whose husband, Don, was the Christ Church priest when Father Schnatterly was the curate. Investigators asked about the habits of Father Schnatterly and his wife, Lorrelle, and their associations, marriage and attitudes, she said.

"In this small community, there are no secrets," she said. "No secrets. We would have known."

Father Schnatterly, now pastor at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Opelika, concurred with that assessment in a telephone interview yesterday.

"I would think that if anybody had that kind of hostility, people would have known," he said from his home in Opelika. "It's just unbelievable. I have a hard time understanding that kind of violent act when it happens in Oklahoma City or Scotland or Beirut -- and it's the same when it happens to you personally. I have racked my brain, and I can't think of anything. I avoid taking social and political stands in sermons -- I consider myself a preacher of the Gospel, not of social issues."

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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