Wilmington Friar Carjacked in Front of St. Paul’s Church

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

WILMINGTON, Del. — Paul Williams, OFM, was getting out of his car in front of St. Paul’s Church on July 24, when he felt a tap on his right shoulder. When he turned, he saw a man pointing a gun near his chest.

“He called me a nasty name and then told me to give him the car keys,” said Paul, who complied with the request, according to The News Journal. “He turned around and then he turned back around — back at me, like he was going to shoot me — and then he thought about it and changed his mind. He went and took the car, and that was the end of it.

“I actually thought he was going to shoot me,” Paul added.

The morning carjacking left Paul shaken but physically unharmed. The friars reported the incident to the police, who arrested 19-year-old Deiondre Travis after spotting the car several blocks away from the church later that afternoon. Police say Travis had added fictitious license plates to the vehicle and left it parked on the street while he went to play basketball. A surveillance perimeter was set up and the teenager was arrested without incident when he returned to the vehicle.

Travis has been charged with first-degree robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, according to The News Journal.

Local Crime Increasing
Paul, who moved from Anderson, S.C., to Wilmington just three months ago, said he was disappointed in the situation and would like for police to be more visible in the area.

“When you live in an urban environment, you kind of expect there will be things like this,” said Paul, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Wilmington. “But when it happens to you, that’s when things become very real.”

St. Paul’s Church has been a target for criminals during the past three weeks, according to Todd Carpenter, OFM, pastor. Two weeks ago, two air-conditioning window units were stolen from the rectory. On July 19, someone broke into the friary and ransacked several rooms. A computer, money and other items were stolen. One of the friars was in the friary at the time but was sleeping in the basement because his room, which was burglarized, was too hot.

“It’s frightening to know someone was in your home,” said Todd, who has been stationed at St. Paul Friary in Wilmington since 2008. “This is kind of shocking that in daylight they’ve held up one of the friars at gunpoint.”

Although Paul was not wearing his habit at the time, Todd said Paul’s connection to the parish was still visible. “He’s coming out of the side door of the rectory. To me, it would have been obvious,” Todd said in an interview with CBS Philly.

The friars of Holy Name Province have been serving Wilmington for more than 20 years. They began staffing St. Paul’s Parish in 1991.

Placing Faith in God
Though the recent wave of crime has been frightening for the friar community, Paul told CBS Philly that he had no intention of leaving.

“We put our faith in God,” he said. “We can’t be cowards, so we move on with our lives.” Grateful that he was unharmed, Paul invited others to pray with him for his attacker.

“I thank God that this kid did not do something crazy like shoot me,” Paul said in an interview with the local ABC news station. “At Mass today, I asked the congregation to pray with me for this young man so that he would turn his life around.”

“I feel sorry for him,” Paul added in an interview with NBC Philadelphia. “He was so desperate.  So the people in church, we prayed for him.”

Paul’s story was circulated by the Associated Press and appeared in media outlets around the country, including in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Kentucky.

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator of Holy Name Province. The above image is courtesy of The News Journal.

Editor’s note: A reflection by Fr. Paul about the carjacking, racism and profiling appears in this issue.