On Tuesday I covered a developing story out of St. Louis, where a man walked into a Catholic supply store around 3:15 pm on Monday, sexually assaulted two women, and killed one other woman before fleeing the scene.
As of Tuesday's post, not all the details were known, and the assailant was still on the loose. The next day, police arrested Thomas Bruce, 53, and charged him with 17 criminal counts.
The charges include first-degree murder, three counts of sodomy, three counts of kidnapping, first-degree burglary, tampering with evidence and armed criminal action. Bruce is currently being held without bond.
A pastor at nearby Calvary Chapel in Maryland Heights, David Fitzgerald, told a local newspaper that Bruce was a pastor at Calvary Chapel of Cape Girardeau from 2003 to 2007.
Looking up Bruce's name on the website for the Missouri Secretary of State's office shows their record of him as the operator of a now-defunct church created in January 2003.
Fitzgerald, talking about Bruce's crimes, said to the newspaper, "It was completely out of character for the Tom Bruce that I knew, completely surprising. If it wasn't for the amount of evidence against him I would think they've got the wrong guy."
The "completely surprising" actions Bruce performed were elaborated on by authorities at a press conference on Wednesday.
Bruce is alleged to have entered the store and pretended to just be shopping. After noticing that the only people in the store were three women, he left the store for a short time before coming back with a gun.
With the gun he forced the women to go to the back room of the store. There, he ordered the women to strip while he also exposed himself. As police wrote in their report he then ordered the women to "perform deviant sexual acts on him."
Two of the women followed Bruce's orders, but the third woman, Jamie Schmidt, refused. Bruce shot her in the head and ordered the other two women to continue performing sexual acts. He then fled the store.
Schmidt was a 53-year-old mother of three from nearby House Springs. Members of Schmidt's church, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, gathered for a memorial service on Tuesday for her. One of Schmidt's friends told local reporters that she may have been at the store on Monday buying supplies to make rosaries for members of her church.
What all three women experienced in that store is terrifying and tragic. Whatever motivated Bruce to do this I do not know. At the press conference on Wednesday, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said, "It seems to me a guy like this saw an opportunity — three women in the store alone."
Perhaps that is true. Maybe the fact that he is a former pastor who probably did not take it well when his church shut down is just incidental, and not tied to his motivation.
For now, we can at least be thankful that police were able to apprehend him and get this maniac off the streets. The victims and their families will need a long time to heal after what Bruce has done to them.