Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Machete attack leaves Louisiana priest in critical condition, investigated as possible hate crime

LSP: Man critically shot in altercation with SPD reportedly seen on  surveillance loading weapons into car

A machete-wielding man allegedly attacked a Black priest in Melville in what authorities say was a possible hate crime.

The attack happened around 6 p.m. Thursday in front of the St. John Catholic Church in Melville. 

The priest was seriously injured and was hospitalized in critical condition, but Melville Police Chief Philip Lucas said he is now speaking and his vitals have stabilized.

Lucas said the priest is from Africa and has been ministering in the community for at least several years.

The man arrested in the attack, Johnny Neely, is a resident of Melville. He and another individual approached the priest asking to work for food, Lucas said. Neely, who is White, is in police custody but the person with Neely has not been arrested yet.  Lucas said that person called the police when the attack began.

“The other witnesses said that Johnny Neely went ballistic, cutting the priest with a machete,” Lucas said.

The police have classifed the attack as a hate crime and have asked the FBI for assistance, Lucas said.  He said Neely professed to wanting to cut a Black man’s head off.

Misty Gray, a witness and neighbor to the church, was returning home from work when she saw Neely on top of the priest wielding a bloodied machete, she said. When she recognized what was happening, she urged her husband to call the police.

“He was screaming racist words, saying he was going to be killing Black people,” Gray said.

Gray said Neely has swastika and what looked like white supremacist tattoos. Lucas said Neely believes himself to be part of a cult but did not specify what kind of cult.

Neely has been arrested multiple times. He has been arrested three times for criminal trespassing in North Dakota, according to public records. He also has two unspecified arrests in Louisiana.

The investigation is ongoing and will be updated as new information comes out, Lucas said.