A 26-year-old man charged with shooting a Roman Catholic priest he says molested him years ago walked into a Northwest Baltimore church service hours after the assault, came forward to seek salvation and later confessed, the pastor said last night.
Dontee D. Stokes, who alleged in 1993 that the Rev. Maurice Blackwell had fondled him over a three-year period, was on suicide watch in city jail last night as the Catholic Church sex scandal took a violent turn. Stokes faces an initial appearance today in District Court.
FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday about the shooting of a Catholic priest gave an incorrect address for Dontee Stokes, the man charged with the assault. He lives in the 2100 block of Mount Royal Terrace. The Sun regrets the error.
Blackwell, 56, was listed in serious but stable condition last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center after suffering gunshot wounds Monday to his hand and side from a large-caliber handgun.
Police said Stokes told them he shot Blackwell because the priest rebuffed his demand for an apology over the alleged sexual assault, which friends and relatives say torments Stokes.
"That's all he wanted," said Tiffani Taft, 22, his fiancee.
The shooting shocked relatives of the suspect and friends of the priest, who has been on involuntary leave from St. Edward's Catholic Church in West Baltimore since 1998 after admitting to a sexual liaison with another minor two decades earlier.
The incident is just the latest involving Blackwell, who was temporarily removed from his West Baltimore parish after Stokes' allegations surfaced in 1993.
Cardinal William H. Keeler, emerging from a previously scheduled "listening session" with Baltimore Archdiocese priests about the sexual abuse crisis, said he and his priests prayed for Blackwell, "that the Lord be with him, to give him strength," as well as for all victims of molestation by clergy.
"I am appalled that another act of violence has occurred in the city of Baltimore and that tragedy touches a person I have known personally," Keeler said. He refused to answer specific questions about Blackwell's past, referring them to his spokesman.
Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the shooting "something we've feared for some time."
"We feel badly for both the priest and for the young man," she said. "We are grateful that he had the strength to turn himself in to the police. We hope the priest recovers quickly."
This is the second violent outgrowth of the clergy sex scandal. A priest from the Diocese of Cleveland, the Rev. Don Rooney, committed suicide April 4 after the disclosure of an abuse allegation involving a girl in 1980.
Keeler said he knew Blackwell, though "not well."
"I know that he was much beloved by people in the parish and had a warm and outgoing personality," Keeler said.
What pushed Stokes to shoot Blackwell nine years after he made his allegations is not clear. Relatives and friends said Stokes had been suffering from depression and threatened suicide. His mother, Tamara Stokes, said he might have snapped amid the deluge of reports about the sexual misconduct of clergy across the nation.
Police said Stokes left his house in the 1200 block of Mount Royal Terrace on Monday evening to meet his fiancee for a meal at her workplace. Stokes had a .357-caliber Magnum revolver with him, stuffed in a duffel bag.
As he drove to meet his fiancee, police said, Stokes passed Blackwell talking with another man outside his rowhouse in the 700 block of Reservoir St. Stokes drove by Blackwell once, then circled back and began speaking to the priest through his open passenger window, police said.
"Mr. Blackwell did not show any interest in speaking with [the] victim and after several attempts Mr. Stokes states that he doesn't know what came over him," police wrote in documents charging Stokes with attempted murder.
Stokes told detectives that he "wanted an apology," police said, and did not receive one.
Stokes removed his revolver from a holster in the bag and fired three shots at Blackwell through his window at close range, police said. Stokes then drove to a vacant house in the 4800 block of Greenspring Ave. and hid the gun, which police said they later recovered, missing three rounds.
Later that night, Stokes walked into a service at Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church in Park Heights, with the Rev. R. Lee Johnson, pastor of the nearby Brown's Memorial Baptist Church, presiding.
When Johnson asked "if there was any person in the building who desired to dedicate their life to the Lord," Stokes walked down the aisle to the front, where church members prayed over him. After the service, Stokes asked to speak to Johnson privately.
"He told me he had done something wrong, that he had shot a man and, realizing what he had done, he wanted to confess and give himself over to the police," Johnson said.
Despite well-publicized charges levied against Blackwell since 1993, parishioners and neighbors found it hard to believe that he had done anything wrong.