Within five minutes of entering the Iglesia Bethel church in Holtville the suspect alleged to have attacked a sheriff's deputy was apprehended by law enforcement officers searching for a suspect.
Pastor Alfredo Rocha said he had finished his sermon and already made the call up to the altar. About 50 adults left their seats and knelt in front of the altar and with arms raised and eyes closed, the congregation responded to Rocha's prayers. Meanwhile, about 20 children were in a classroom with their teacher down a small corridor.
Then Alex Padilla, suspected of committing the assault, entered the sanctuary with a visible wound to his neck, Rocha added. This attracted the attention of the two church deacons who were posted in the narthex (lobby in front of the sanctuary).
Alarmed by Padilla's wound ,they followed him into the sanctuary where he proceeded to the altar. But immediately Rocha saw Padilla's wound. He continued with his ministry but motioned to the deacons following Padilla to stay right in back of him.
"He got to his knees in front of the altar," said Rocha "I thought he was in a fight and maybe fleeing the police. I continued my ministry because I didn't want anybody to panic. Then this guy (Padilla) lifted his head and raised his hands. So I stepped in front of him and started praying, but I don't know what's going on with him.”
Padilla is suspected of getting into an altercation with an Imperial County Sheriff’s Office deputy who approached him at intersection of Ninth Street and Orange Avenue about 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 28, sheriff’s officials said. He allegedly wrestled away the deputy’s gun, fired shots and struck him before fleeing in the deputy’s patrol car.
The deputy called for assistance initiating an urgent search, officials added. The deputy suffered injuries and was taken by helicopter air ambulance to hospital and later released.
Padilla, 38, of Holtville, was arrested inside the church and jailed on $500,000 bail, officials added. He had an initial court appearance on Nov. 30. He was treated for minor injuries.
Two days after the incident Rocha explained to this paper he thought it was possibly a dangerous situation but he could plainly see Padilla had no weapons.
"Over half our congregation didn't know what was going on because they were in the middle of praying," Rocha continued. "Two couples to his left saw he was bleeding from the neck and began to look worried. But my two deacons were right in back of him and I was determined to take care of my people--do whatever it takes, but he never spoke or touched anyone."
Rocha then caught the eye of one of the females, a teacher, closest to Padilla and gestured to her to go to the classroom to look after the children and the other teacher. It was then the first group of officers entered the back of the sanctuary and proceeded to the altar. Rocha gestured for them to remain calm.
"The guy who is bleeding turned half around and saw the police and then put his head to the floor and spread his arms out," said Rocha. "He surrendered himself to the police totally."
Padilla did not resist officers and he was removed to the church parking lot. A few officers remained behind and began searching underneath chairs. Rocha then ended the service and went outside with the officers who explained the were looking for a gun, yet Rocha told them he saw Padilla had not carried weapons of any sort. It was then police explained to Rocha that Padilla had allegedly assaulted an officer.
Returning to the sanctuary, Rocha provided the congregation the details of what took place prior to Padilla entering the church. Officers then spent a bit over an hour questioning adult parishioners what they knew of Padilla. None had ever seen him before and police were unable to locate any weapon in the sanctuary.
"Thank God he had no weapons and surrendered himself without a fight because it could have been a tragedy with so many people," said Rocha.
The following day, Nov. 29, Rocha said he held his daily 8 a.m. prayer for about 10 people and afterwards they talked about the previous day. That afternoon he received several phone calls from congregants but nobody seem alarmed, just concerned for everybody's safety. He noted no one expressed hesitancy about returning to church.
"But we'll see how many on Sunday show up to church," he added.