Orchestra conductor at famed Crystal Cathedral kills self after nine-hour standoff

Friday, December 17th 2004, 5:58 am
By: News On 6

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) _ The veteran conductor of the Crystal Cathedral's orchestra shot himself to death Friday at the landmark church after a nine-hour standoff that began when he opened fire as congregants prepared for a Christmas pageant.

No one else was injured.

Fifty-seven-year-old Johnnie Carl, the orchestra's conductor for 29 years, had barricaded himself in a bathroom and shot himself at about 2 a.m. as police officers tried to talk to him. Carl, who also had a successful recording career, had grappled with depression, authorities said.

He had fired about four shots in his office, and it did not appear he was trying to hit anybody, police said. Children in a day care center were rushed to safety.

The cathedral, a huge, sprawling structure of glass and steel not far from Disneyland, is home to the Rev. Robert Schuller's international Crystal Cathedral Ministries and claims a congregation of more than 10,000 members. The internationally televised ``Hour of Power'' is broadcast from there.

The first shots were fired shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, less than two hours before the scheduled start of the cathedral's annual ``Glory of Christmas'' holiday show, for which Carl had arranged the prerecorded music. The two Thursday shows were canceled.

The 78-year-old Schuller, who was at home when the shooting happened, came to the command post police set up near the cathedral and taped a message for Carl. Police did not have the chance to play it or another message from the Carl's wife, but they did play one from a friend who had helped Carl in the past, police said.

Schuller spokesman Michael Nason said Carl had arranged or recorded music for artists including Celine Dion, John Tesh, Michael Crawford and the London Symphony. Among the records he contributed to were Dion's ``These are Special Times'' and Tesh's ``Live from Red Rocks.''

Nason said Carl had talked to him in the past about feeling despondent _ ``just a sense of personal pressures, job, and things around him, dealing with people around him.''

In a statement, Schuller hailed his friend as ``a creative genius whose beautiful arrangements and superb conducting set new levels of excellence for sacred music. His music brought joy to the millions of viewers around the world who watch the Crystal Cathedral's 'Hour of Power' television program each week.''

The cathedral's Christmas pageant draws visitors from around the world. It includes Christmas carols, live animals and special effects such as flying angels.

Schuller arrived in Garden Grove in 1955, founding a local Reformed Church in America congregation. He gained international fame when he rented the Orange Drive-in theater and began conducting Sunday services from the roof of the snack bar.

As his congregation grew rapidly, he launched plans to build the cathedral, which was designed by famed architect Philip Johnson and his partner, John Burgee. The cathedral, 128 feet high and 415 feet long, was completed in 1980.

His son Robert Anthony Schuller is also an ordained minister and preaches at the cathedral. Schuller has designated him as his successor.

Carl is survived by his wife, Linda, and three children.