A suspect has been charged with murder after an Omaha priest was killed Sunday morning, but police have not yet released information about what motivated the stabbing death of Fr. Stephen Gutgsell.
Gutgsell, 65, called 911 at about 5 a.m. on Dec. 10, telling police that it appeared someone was attempting to break into his parish rectory in Fort Calhoun, a village of roughly 1,100 people.
By the time police arrived — reportedly less than 10 minutes after the 911 call — Gutgsell had been stabbed, and was rushed to a hospital, where he died from his injuries.
Inside the rectory, police arrested Kierre Williams, 43, of Sioux City, Iowa, which is nearly 90 minutes north of Ft. Calhoun.
It is not clear whether Gutgsell was an intended target of the attack, or known to his attacker.
The priest was pastor of St. John Baptist parish in Fort Calhoun, and assigned to other duties at neary St. Francis Borgia, part of a grouping of three parishes in the region, according to parish bulletins. St. John the Baptist has approximately 250 families, according to its website.
Though a small town, Fort Calhoun sits less than 10 miles from both Interstate 29 and Interstate 680, the northern interstate bypass of the Omaha metropolitan area.
In August, Linda Childers, a 71-year-old woman, was killed during a home invasion in Fort Calhoun. The man charged with the murder, William Collins, appeared from police records to be a drifter, with no known connection to the dead woman.
But Gutgsell himself also had a troubled past.
In February 2007, the priest was arrested and charged with stealing more than $125,000 over three years, from the Omaha parish where he served.
According to court records obtained by The Pillar, Gutgsell admitted to stealing the money.
The priest’s attorney said he had begun embezzling the money after he racked up credit card debts he felt unable to repay. But little information is known about the details of the crime — in response to a 2021 FOIA request, Omaha police said they were unable to release several pages of “investigatory” material detailing the theft, because of Nebraska’s records statutes.
While he could have faced 20 years in prison for the theft, Gutgsell was instead given five years probation, 500 hours of community service, and ordered to complete a residential treatment program at the South Down Institute, a Canadian psychological treatment facility for priests and religious.
The priest was also ordered to pay the Archdiocese of Omaha some $40,000 in restitution.
In 2012, he was released from his probation, with almost $13,000 left to repay. The Archdiocese of Omaha told court officials that it had no objections to the end of Gutgsell’s probation, and that the priest had “agreed to continue making payments” on the amount owed.
In June of this year, Gutgsell’s brother — also an Omaha priest — reached a plea bargain with prosecutors, and pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges of theft, almost two years after he was charged with stealing nearly $200,000 from an elderly priest, along with thousands from the Nebraska parish where he was pastor.
According to charging documents, Fr. Michael Gutgsell, 74, gave the stolen money, along with hundreds of thousands from his own savings, to an Omaha homeless man whom he apparently believed would pay him back.
It is not clear whether Fr. Michael Gutgsell will be returned to priestly ministry.
On Sunday, after the death of Fr. Stephen Gutgsell, the Omaha archdiocese asked for prayers.
“Please join Archbishop George Lucas in prayer for the repose of Father Gutgsell, for his family and for the St. John the Baptist parish community in this tragic time,” the archdiocese asked in a statement.
While Masses are canceled at St. John the Baptist, Omaha’s Archbishop George Lucas offered Mass Sunday at nearby St. Francis Borgia parish.