By Walt Hunter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Father Steven Wetzel is a priest — not a police officer — but during a “ride-a-along” with 15th District officers late Monday night, the Chaplain, who wears a stole with a Fraternal Order of Police emblem instead of a badge, suddenly found himself among the first on the scene when Officer Stephen Korpalski was shot in the head and wounded.
“I immediately needed to get to Officer Korpalski, see his condition and pray with him,” Father Wetzel told CBS 3’s Walt Hunter as he shared the firsthand account of the terrifying moments in an exclusive interview.
As Korpalski, wounded in the head, was being picked up and carried to a police car by his brother officers, Father Wetzel was at his side, trying to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
“At that point, he was about to be placed into the police car to be taken to Einstein (Medical Center),” Father Wetzel explained. “Normally, I would try to anoint him, but at that point, I gave him absolution and a blessing.”
Father Wetzel says he prayed the officer, a 14 year veteran and father of a three-week-old baby girl, would survive. The suspect who shot him, police say, was killed when officers returned fire.
“We were expecting the worst with a gunshot wound of the head,” Father Wetzel explained, recalling the frightening moments.
But after racing to Einstein Medical Center, Father says, it was good news. The bullet had grazed Korpalski’s head, less than an inch from doing serious or even deadly damage. The wounded officer gave Father Wetzel a cheerful greeting from his hospital bed.
“When I first saw him, he said, ‘Padre, how are you?’ He was smiling and joking with friends,” Father Wetzel said.
Father says every time he rolls out to ride with officers, he first stops at the chapel in the rectory where he lives, offering a quick prayer for the safety of the officers on that shift.
“I pray for police and their families, then I close that chapel door and go out on the street,” Father told Hunter.
Early Tuesday morning, in the darkness and violence, Officer Korpalski needed them most, and, Father says, his prayers were answered.
Back in January, Father Wetzel began his new role as Chaplain and Pastoral Care Specialist at Fraternal Order of Police headquarters, available to officers in Philadelphia and throughout the region.
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