A former Union County priest who admitted to NJ Advance Media that he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy died by suicide in his native Ecuador after he allegedly shot three people there, killing one, according to local media.
Manuel Gallo Espinoza, 59, shot and killed Byron Carreño, his partner in an English language school in Loja, Ecuador, on July 2, the reports said, citing “investigators.” He also shot two other partners and his pet before turning the gun on himself after a dispute about the management of the school, the reports said.
Efforts to reach prosecutors in Ecuador were unsuccessful, and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office was not immediately able to confirm the reports of Gallo Espinoza’s death. However, several people who know Gallo Espinoza verified his identity by widely-circulated photographs.
Gallo Espinoza was indicted by a Union County grand jury in 2016 for the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old in 2003. He fled the country in 2003 after his victim told another priest and a nun that the clergyman raped him in the rectory of a Plainfield church that year.
The criminal investigation went dormant until NJ Advance Media highlighted the victim’s case in July 2015. It resulted in a grand jury indictment on two counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said at the time.
Gallo Espinoza faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the second-degree counts, but he was never extradited to the United States. Despite an extradition treaty, Ecuador is considered to be largely uncooperative.
At the time of the alleged attack, Gallo Espinoza was a visiting priest of the Archdiocese of Newark. His victim settled a case against the archdiocese in 2016.
NJ Advance Media was unable to reach the victim or his family, but his former attorney called Gallo Espinoza “a horrible person.”
“My client was horrified by and will live with the effect of what (Gallo Espinoza) did to him for the rest of his life,” the attorney, Greg Gianforcaro, said. “He destroyed a very nice young child. All my client did was cross paths with a horrible person — and he was a horrible person for what he did in New Jersey.”
A LONG SEARCH FOR JUSTICE
Gallo Espinoza’s accusedr said the priest raped him in a bedroom at the rectory at St. Mary’s Church in Plainfield shortly before Easter in 2003.
The victim, who was an altar boy and a member of the parish youth group, said Gallo Espinoza attacked him weeks after he told the priest in confession that he was confused about his sexuality.
Gallo Espinoza fled to Ecuador after the allegations were made public, but he returned to the United States in 2005 to work as a teacher at schools in Maryland and Virginia.
He disappeared again in February 2014. After the NJ Advance Media expose in the summer of 2015, Gallo Espinoza reached out to the news organization, saying he wanted to contact his victim.
Gallo Espinoza admitted in a telephone interview and in email exchanges with a reporter that he carried out the assault, calling it a “mistake” and blaming his victim for enticing him.
“One thing that I am conscious (of) is he was at that time a teenager, and it is a big mistake for me. But I didn’t force him to do anything he didn’t want,” Gallo Espinoza wrote. “He was older (sic) enough to walk away, but I think that I was attracted to him, that is the only explanation that I can think right now.”
Gallo Espinoza also said he was drunk at the time of the assault and that he was depressed because he was away from his home country.
After the indictment, the victim said he was grateful that authorities pursued the case after so many years.
“There are so many things that come to my mind right now,” he said at the time. “I’m definitely happy he was indicted. This is something that I wished for: to try to bring me closure and for justice being served. I’m happy it’s moving forward.”
Then-Archbishop John J. Myers suspended Gallo Espinoza from ministry after Ramirez’s allegation, which was later deemed credible by a church review board. Gallo Espinoza told NJ Advance Media in 2015 that he left the priesthood voluntarily after fleeing to Ecuador.
The archdiocese didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the death.
Editor’s note: NJ Advance Media typically limits reporting on suicides to those that occur in crowded public places, involve public figures or, in special circumstances, where there is a larger public impact. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be reduced with the proper mental health support and treatment. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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NJ Advance Media reporter Liz Llorente and Research Editor Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.