Youth held over murder of priest

BELOVED BY MANY: Archbishop Buti Tlhagale holds up pictures of Rev Lionel Sham. 08/03/2009. © Sowetan. Pic. Mohau Mofokeng.
BELOVED BY MANY: Archbishop Buti Tlhagale holds up pictures of Rev Lionel Sham. 08/03/2009. © Sowetan. Pic. Mohau Mofokeng.

Sibongile Mashaba

Sibongile Mashaba

An 18-year-old remained in custody yesterday after he had been arrested for the murder of a Catholic priest who went missing on Friday night.

By late yesterday police were still questioning the teenager about the incident but had already charged him with the murder and kidnapping of Father Lionel Sham.

Father Sham, 67, was last seen alive on Friday night at his church in Mohlakeng, West Rand, where he had been the parish priest.

Church caretakers found his car, a TV, DVD player, laptop and computer hard-drive were missing and his bedroom bloodstained when they went to investigate at his home on Saturday.

The boy's 20-year-old friend died when the priest's car they were driving overturned in Deneysville in the Free State late on Saturday night. The car, a maroon Toyota Corolla, was recovered at the scene yesterday.

Father Sham's body was identified at the Sebokeng Mortuary in the Vaal yesterday after it was found in the open veld on Saturday.

Randfontein police spokesman Captain Joseph Magoai said: "The suspect told police that he and a friend were drunk and he only realised this morning [yesterday] that they were in the Free State.

"The priest's body had not sustained any wounds and a postmortem will reveal the cause of death."

The church's caretaker David Mokotsi, Sham's friend of three years, said: "I am deeply hurt by his death. He did not deserve to be killed."

He said Sham had always insisted on giving him and colleague Joseph Dielwane a lift home after work.

Archbishop of Johannesburg Buti Tlhagale said about Father Sham:

"He was a friend and mentor to many people. All we can do now is pray with the family, the parish of Mohlakeng and the many people who loved and knew Lionel."

Father Sham worked at Boys Town, in various parishes, as administrator of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Johannesburg, rector of the Orientation Seminary in Welkom, secretary of the seminary department of the Bishops' Conference, vocation director and vicar general.

He is the second priest to be murdered in less than two weeks.

On February 27, a 34-year-old priest from the Jouberton Catholic Church gave a lift to four men aged between 17 and 21. They allegedly stabbed him more than eight times in the neck, chest and back.