Utica, N.Y. - Between 200 and 300 people were inside Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Utica Saturday afternoon about to take part in the church's 4:00 mass when a man came in, went up to the front of the church, and began yelling near the top of his voice.
Pastor Joseph Salerno was in the sacristy with other church leaders at 3:50 P.M. preparing for the mass. He says he thought that the loud talking was possibly regarding someone who may have fallen or something like that, but he says when he immediately came out, it was a much different situation, "He was very assertive, he was angry, he had a lot of anger."
Salerno says there were moments when the man was making sense and there were moments when he was not making any sense, "Just a number of things, not all we’re connected to each other."
Salerno says he tried to reason with the guy and calm him down, "I approached him and identified myself as the pastor and said maybe we can walk outside, and whatever you need to talk about we can talk about out there. But immediately he did not buy into that, he wanted to speak to everyone."
Salerno says the man's demeanor was intimidating, but he says it was something the man was wearing that really frightened him and others in the church, "What intimidated me the most was that he had a small backpack attached, and I immediately began to think, could it be a gun, could be a knife, could it be something explosive."
He says several male members of the church stepped up and formed a circular ring around the area where he and this man were, "I was edified by the response of the congregation where a number of men who just intuitively got out of their place in their pews and came and kind of surrounded both of us to try to make sure nothing would happen."
Salerno says someone called 911 and police were inside the church within 3 to 4 minutes, "Sometimes three or four minutes in that kind of situation can feel like an eternity but immediately they took control and unfortunately they had to handcuff this person and get him out of the church. He gave very little resistance to that, and this was a good size gentlemen."
Police say the man removed from the church and arrested is 62-year-old Harry Brown of Utica.
He's charged with Disrupting a Religious Service, a class A Misdemeanor.
In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Utica Police Sgt. Michael Curley said the following, "The Utica Police Department would like to thank the members of Our Lady of Lourdes and its pastor, Father Joe Salerno, for their brave efforts in quelling a potentially dangerous situation."
No word on Brown's next court date.
Salerno says this was definitely a scary situation, but he says it's the goal of a church to welcome everyone, so it;s kind of hard to prevent something like this from happening. He says he's just glad this is all it turned out to be, "I think it's become apparent in our nation that this can happen anywhere at anytime and thank God no one was harmed here as it has happened in so many other places."