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Shelter Island rattled by home invasion that injured minister

Police investigate the scene of a home invasion

Police investigate the scene of a home invasion on Shelter Island where they said a minister, Paul Wancura, 87, was found tied up and hurt. Credit: Stringer News / AJ Ryan

Shelter Island residents said they were rattled Tuesday when a retired minister was found critically injured after being tied up for days in his home in this quiet enclave.

Crimes like this don’t happen here, people said, especially in the cold weather when the population shrinks to a fraction of its summer size.

Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron said police think the house on Oak Tree Lane was targeted for a burglary and “We do not believe this was a random incident.”

But he added: “This is a safe area. . . . This is shocking.” He said he did not believe other residents were in danger.

Zach Renault, a year-round resident said “Nothing like this happens in winter. This is the off season. There’s not a lot of people around.”

He added: “It’s a small town and everybody knows each other.”

The victim, Paul Wancura, remained in critical condition in Stony Brook Hospital, where he underwent surgery and may do so again, police said. He is known around the island as an 87-year-old with a lot of pluck. He attended fitness classes and still drove, albeit slowly. Although he had retired from the Caroline Church of Brookhaven in Setauket, where he had been minister for over a quarter century, he still regularly preached on Sundays at a church in Central Islip.

When he failed to make his expected appearance at the Church of the Messiah on Sunday, and couldn’t be reached afterward, people started to worry. Church leaders asked an island minister to check on him, said Cameron during a news conference Tuesday.

The Rev. Charles McCarron of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Shelter Island said he found Wancura tied up in his shorefront home on the island.

“When I came in he didn’t respond,” McCarron said Tuesday. “Eventually I heard him in his bedroom.”

The retired minister tried to speak but couldn’t. “He was in bad shape,” McCarron said. His restraints left him badly injured and he was suffering from dehydration, McCarron said.

It remains unclear how long Wancura had been tied up. McCarron said it had been days since anyone on the isolated island — accessible only be ferries or boat — heard from him.

Police on Tuesday offered few details on what happened or who committed the home invasion. The have offered a $10,000 Fast Cash reward for information leading to an arrest. People can call 800-220-TIPS.

During winter, this community off the Twin Forks of Long Island goes almost dormant, as if in hibernation. The population shrinks to a few thousand.

The brutality of the crime has sent a shock wave through this community, waking it out of its winter slumber.

On Tuesday, Town Supervisor Gary J. Gerth was reminding people this “isn’t indicative of a crime wave in town.”

Beyond that, he was letting the wicked of the world know that people here are not to be taken lightly.

“We have hunters, fishermen. People have ways to defend themselves,” he said.

Don Young, a ferry worker, declared on Tuesday, “I’m very confident that there were a lot more houses locked up last night than usual.”

Wancura underwent surgery Monday night and is expected to need another, said Cameron, the police commissioner.

McCarron has been visiting him in the ICU. Wancura hasn’t spoken to him yet about what happened. He’s pretty medicated with painkillers, McCarron said.

“He’s not yet out of the woods at all,” he said.

Shelter Island is accustomed to little crime, and little crimes: somebody caught speeding, somebody who hit a deer with their car, people said.

In 2016, Shelter Island had a total of 28 violent and property crimes reported to police, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. It had one incident of aggravated assault, and 27 property crimes that include 24 larcenies and three burglaries. Not since 1998 has there been such a gasp-drawing major crime here. That’s when Kenneth Payne, a carpenter, walked next door with a 12-gauge shotgun and blasted a hole in the stomach of Curtis Cook, 44, his best friend. Payne became the island’s first convicted murderer.

“I feel the island is traumatized by this,” McCarron said. It has “impacted our vision of the place.”

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