Catholic priest with 50 years of service and his sister killed in Florida shooting spree

Palm Bay Police Chief Mariano Augello speaks with reporters at a Jan. 29, 2024, afternoon press conference about a shooting spree that took the lives of four people, including retired Diocese of Orlando, Fla., Catholic priest, Father Robert Hoeffner, and his sister Sally Hoeffner. Augello said the department was still trying to determine the motive of suspect Brandon Kapas, 24, who was killed exchanging gunfire with responding officers in Palm Bay, Fla. (OSV News screenshot/Fox 35 Orlando)

(OSV News) ─ A retired Florida Catholic priest and his sister were killed in a multi-location rampage that also took the life of another man, left two police officers injured and ended with the death of the suspect.

Father Robert Hoeffner and his sister, Sally Hoeffner, were found slain at a Palm Bay, Florida, residence on the evening of Jan. 28, as police investigated a domestic disturbance at another area home that turned deadly.

Earlier that day, Palm Bay police had been summoned to a home at which 24-year-old suspect Brandon William Kapas was reported to be damaging property at a birthday party. Kapas' uncle advised responding officers that his nephew might have weapons on his person and in his vehicle, according to Palm Bay Police Chief Mariano Augello, who briefed reporters during a Jan. 29 media conference.

Augello said that Kapas exited the home and headed for the car, ignoring the commands of officers, who tasered Kapas and engaged in a brief struggle from which the suspect fled. During an exchange of gunfire, two police officers sustained injuries from which Augello said they are expected to recover.

Additional law enforcement responded, with Kapas allegedly shooting and killing his grandfather who was reportedly attempting to intervene. During the subsequent engagement with police, Kapas was killed.

Upon investigation, police learned the vehicle in Kapas' possession, which contained numerous weapons, had been stolen from Father Hoeffner and his sister, whose bodies were then discovered at their home.

Police have not disclosed a motive for the shootings.

Public records show Kapas had been arrested in December for driving under the influence of alcohol and for reckless driving, and in August 2019 for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and resisting arrest.

OSV News has reached out to the Orlando Diocese and is awaiting a response to its request for comment by Orlando Bishop John Noonan.

Father Hoeffner -- who retired in 2016 as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Palm Bay -- celebrated his 50th jubilee as a priest in April 2023.

According to a jubilee notice published by the Orlando Diocese in March 2023, Father Hoeffner was born in Rochester, New York, before his family moved to Fort Pierce, Florida, when he was still a child. He discerned Jesus Christ calling him to the priesthood in middle school, thanks in part to three family friends who were priests. He enrolled in St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami at age 14, and then St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida.

Ordained in April 1973 by Bishop William D. Borders, Father Hoeffner was first assigned to Good Shepherd Parish in Orlando. He then taught at Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando and later directed the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park, Florida.

After earning a degree in liturgical studies from The Catholic University of America in Washington, Father Hoeffner became the Orlando Diocese's liturgy director and master of ceremonies for the late Bishop Thomas J. Grady. While in that role, he began what would become a 28-year run of celebrating Mass for television broadcasts in five dioceses.

"I enjoyed doing that. I remembered walking into a McDonalds in Georgia on a youth group excursion and someone said, 'You're the TV priest!' The Mass was shown in five dioceses. I'm proud to have been a part of that," Father Hoeffner said in the diocesan jubilee notice.

Father Hoeffner was tapped by Bishop Grady in 1987 to be the founding pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Orlando, launching the community with 100 families and celebrating Mass in a V.F.W. hall.

In 1998, he transferred to St. Joseph Parish in Palm Bay to be closer to his ailing parents. While there, he established a trilingual parish council for the English-speaking, Hispanic and Filipino communities, and also opened a chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

"I've had a glorious ride. I'm proud to serve and do wonderful things for wonderful people. I enjoy doing that," Father Hoeffner said in his jubilee reflection for the diocese. "I've spent 50 years doing absolutely incredible things and I am thankful to God for it."

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Gina Christian is a multimedia reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @GinaJesseReina.



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