An elementary school music teacher shot his ex-wife while she played the organ during a church service and, after leaving briefly, returned and shot her again to ensure she was dead, police said.
Congregants eventually overpowered Gregory Eldred, ending the shooting Sunday at the First United Presbyterian Church of Coudersport, Potter County, near the New York state border.
The shooting was detailed in a criminal complaint filed Monday against Eldred, 52, of Coudersport. He remained jailed without bond on first-degree murder and other charges. Eldred’s attorney didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Eldred’s ex-wife, 53-year-old Darlene Sitler, the choir director, was seated at the organ when she was shot about 20 minutes into the 11 a.m. service, state police said.
Pastor Evon Lloyd told police that Eldred entered the church wearing a hooded, beige jacket and “leveled a gun at the victim and shot,” according to the criminal complaint. The woman then fell into the organ pit. Eldred quickly left the building and put a handgun on the hood of his vehicle while those inside called 911 and aided Sitler.
Another witness, Leslie Rolfe, said Eldred picked up the gun about five minutes later, while Rolfe tried to hold the church doors shut but couldn’t. Rolfe and his wife, Dr. Beverly Prince, tried to persuade Eldred to drop his gun, but he instead threatened to shoot them and the pastor, telling Prince, “I want to finish this,” the complaint said.
Eldred then walked toward his ex-wife saying, “I got to see her. I got to see if she’s dead,” before firing two more shots at Sitler, the complaint said.
Police said nobody else was hurt, though Eldred’s gun went off once when Rolfe and other members of the congregation struggled to subdue Eldred and take his gun.
Trooper Michael Delp arrived from a barracks outside of town eight minutes after the 911 call. Delp told The Associated Press that state police cover for Coudersport police, who don’t work 24/7 and weren’t scheduled to patrol until 4 p.m. that day.
Nobody else was injured at the 180-year-old church, where police found a .40-caliber handgun and four spent shells. Police also found a bullet lodged in a wooden pew and another beneath a pillow that was under the victim’s head, though police didn’t immediately explain how it got there.
In addition to her church duties, Sitler taught music at the Northern Potter Children’s School for 30 years. The elementary school is in a district that neighbors the Coudersport Area School District, where her ex-husband has taught since 1986.
Northern Potter Superintendent Scott Graham told The Associated Press on Monday that the couple had been divorced for years and offered no rationale for the shooting.
Police wouldn’t discuss a motive, except to say it didn’t appear the couple’s divorce was related to the shooting.
The Potter County prothonotary’s office shows the couple filed for divorce in April 2010 and the decree was granted that August.