The attack took place after two men approached Fr. Stephen Ugwu, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Melville, Louisiana, between 6 and 7 p.m. Witnesses say one of the men, 58-year-old Johnny Dwayne Neely of Palmetto, Louisiana, allegedly attacked Ugwu with a machete after the priest would not share any food. The second man who approached Ugwu initially called the police, according to Diocese of Lafayette director of communications Blue Rolfes.
Join me in praying for Father Stephen Ugwu in the Diocese of Lafayette. He was violently assaulted by a man w/ a machete who stated he “wanted to kill a Black man today.” https://t.co/7go9pj4ueC
— Father Josh Johnson (@frjoshjohnson) July 14, 2023
A witness identified as “Gage,” a neighbor of the parish, told KLFY that both Ugwu and Neely “were both covered in blood, so we didn’t know what was going on. [My wife] came and got me. I came over here and noticed the guy had a very large machete and he was cutting at the priest.”
Joshua Johnson, a resident of Melville, told the outlet that he “got to the corner [and] the cop had [Neely] handcuffed. And I see [Melville Police Chief Phillip Lucas], assisting the Father.”
“He was just dripping in blood, and when I looked, he had two or three gashes in his head,” Johnson continued. “He was cut bad.”
Misty Gray, another witness and neighbor of the parish, told The Acadiana Advocate that Neely was shouting “racist words, saying he was going to kill Black people.” She also told the outlet that Neely had swastika and other white supremacist tattoos.
Fr. Ugwu was conscious when police arrived and directed them to the rectory’s kitchen, where food was burning. He was then taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for lacerations on his head and body. On Monday morning, nurses reported that Fr. Ugwu’s vitals were stable Sunday night and that he was to undergo tests Monday in order to determine whether he needed intensive care, KATC reported.
Neely is in police custody and faces attempted second-degree murder, hate crime, and home invasion charges. Authorities have said that Neely told them he “wanted to kill a black man today.”
Lucas has asked the FBI for assistance in the case. The investigation is ongoing.
“[Ugwu] feels blessed to be alive and that his God protected him during his time of need,” Rolfes told Our Sunday Visitor. “Our diocese is doing everything we can to cooperate with this investigation. We’re very grateful to local first responders as well as law enforcement for their quick response and for their speedy capture of the suspect.”
She also told the outlet that while Fr. Ugwu’s parish is “devastated,” its 320 families “are rallying behind him.” She added that the priest is grateful for prayers and support. “We wish to thank all who have been praying for Father Ugwu and request that you continue to do so,” she added.
Anyone with information about the attack is asked to call the Melville Police Department at 337-623-5777.
LifeSite reached out to St. John the Evangelist parish and to Rolfes for comment but has yet to receive a response.