LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Christian Examiner) – Explosions rocked a Southern Baptist church and a Catholic church in Las Cruces, New Mexico today within 30 minutes of each other, causing no injuries and only minor damage, according to a local newspaper.
Police are investigating the blasts that disrupted morning services at Calvary Baptist Church, and at Holy Cross Catholic Church, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
"It was a real bomb, I saw all the parts," Dennis Llewellyn, a member of Calvary Baptist Church, told Las Cruces Sun News.
The former Marine who said he was a demolitions expert, was outside when the explosive detonated inside a mailbox next to the church. He told the newspaper he and Mike Stewart kept worshipers from going inside the church until police arrived.
The debris, shrapnel, and damaged mailbox appeared to contain a bomb -- parts that Llewelly said he could identify from a battery and other obvious materials.
Las Cruces police spokesperson Sgt. Robert Gutierrez reported there were "just a lot of paper shreds."
Stewart told the Sun-News he was inside the church building with about 30 others when a loud blast went off, shaking the building. The church was evacuated and congregants were told to leave their cars in the parking lot.
About 30 minutes later, at the Catholic church, in the midst of communion, Monsignor John Anderson was ready to deliver the sacraments when the second bomb went off.
The priest was in the midst of saying the words, "take and eat, this is my body," when an explosion he described as sounding like a gunshot blast went off, according to the Sun-News.
Monsignor continued with the sacrament, and only after the congregation finished The Lord's Prayer, did he send a deacon to discover the cause of the noise.
Someone reportedly placed explosives in a trash can outside the front of the church where thick stained-glass windows shattered, according to ABC-7.
"I had just received communion and had gotten back to my chair when the police came up and said we need everyone to leave out the doors calmly," Ann Marie Sullivan, a college student and member of the congregation, told the paper.
Police ordered parishoners to leave the building, while they blocked off streets and used bomb-sniffing dogs to check for more explosives. Churchgoers could not leave in their own cars and were finding rides home.
The paper reported the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office Bomb Squad, New Mexico State Police, and others are joining in the investigation which also includes the FBI, AFT, and Department of Homeland Security.
No motive has yet been revealed, but police are noted the "fact" that both explosions occurred at churches on the same day and just 30 minutes apart.
"Be on the lookout for anything suspicious," police spokesman Dan Trujillo said he is telling churches in town asking for advice.
New Mexico's Lt. Gov. John Sanchez Tweeted Sunday afternoon: "Grateful that no one was injured in the #LasCruces explosions this morning. Praying for all those affected and our law enforcement on the scene."
A local faith group plans to have a vigil at 5 p.m. at a park in Las Cruces.