Victims in deadly Catholic church shooting identified

HOUSTON – A man wanted in a deadly shooting at a Catholic church was found dead during a standoff in a west Houston hotel. 

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Arthur Edigin, 62, was found at an Extended Stay America near the West Sam Houston Parkway and Westheimer. 

Deputies said Edigin shot his estranged wife, Graciela Torres, 66, and his 31-year-old daughter, Penny Grace Edigin Zapata, around 7 p.m. Thursday in an apparent domestic dispute at the Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church on Huffmeister Road near Bella Drive.

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Graciela Torres and Penny Grace Edigin Zapata

Edigin fired at least five shots into the passenger side of the vehicle where Torres and Zapata were in, killing Torres and critically injuring Zapata, authorities said.

Authorities also said there was a 17-month-old baby in the vehicle with Edigin's wife and daughter. The baby, who is Zapata's daughter, was not harmed.

According to deputies, Edigin fled the scene and was later located at the west Houston hotel after authorities received a tip he was there.

Authorities were able to confirm Edigin’s identity. A SWAT team was attempted to negotiate with him via cellphone and room phone to get him out of the room.

This photo of Arthur Edigin was released by the Harris County Sheriff's Office on Jan. 17, 2019.

  “We had to make sure that the safety of the hotel guests was paramount, said Deputy Thomas Gilliland, with the HCSO. “So we had to go from floor to floor, room to room to make sure everybody was out.”        

The standoff ended after Edigin was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the hotel room bathroom, deputies said.

According to authorities, the standoff lasted around six hours.

"It was so scary. Honestly, I've never been in a situation like this," Rachel Smith, a guest inside the hotel, said.

Smith was just a floor beneath Edigin, who was on the fourth floor.

"I took my daughter to the bathroom and through the vents, you can hear them negotiating," Smith said. "They were asking him, 'Just please come to the door, we want to help you, but we can't help you.'"

Gilliland said negotiators were able to make contact with Edigin once. When he stopped answering his phone, the SWAT team resorted to tear gas canisters.

"There was some contact made and then at one point it broke down and so he did not answer his phone after a certain while," said Gilliland.

Guests staying at the hotel could hear the pleas from negotiators through their vents and over the loudspeakers as deputies tried to get Edigin to come out.

"They just said, 'This is the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. Please open your door with your arms in the air.' And, you know, they repeated that for a good 15-20 minutes," said guest Daniel Pierson.

Don Thomas, another guest at the hotel, said: "We heard the bullhorn going off. I guess they were shooting smoke through his window and it woke me up. I’ve been in the military a long time - it kind of reminded me of the military. I feel bad for the whole situation, especially his family, so I said a prayer for them. I just hope things are better."

Deputies said they sent in a robot in the sixth hour of the standoff, and that is when they found Edigin's body in the bathroom of his fourth-floor hotel room.

Neighbors of Edigin, including Oliveria Flores, said he would always keep to himself, but when he would talk, he'd talk about church. His neighbor said he was usually alone and played loud music.

Another neighbor, though, said that Edigin had mentioned to him that he had been furious at his estranged wife and would harm her.

"His anger comes from them owning a house in Monterrey, she sold it, and she did not give him half," Pedro Hernandez, a neighbor and friend of Edigin's, said.

Authorities are still investigating what happened and why. They are processing evidence from the scenes.

Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church released a statement saying Torres and Zapata were on their way to an English as a second language class offered on Thursday.

The church also said that because of the shooting, all classes and early childhood programs will be canceled Friday. However, all other events from the weekend will continue as scheduled.

Family members of Torres and Zapata made a GoFundMe Page to help pay for funeral and medical expenses, click link to donate.

About the Authors:

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.