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Update: Alexandria man accused of attacking priest calls priest a rapist

Chad Legare1 / 2
Rev. Robert Wapenski2 / 2

The Alexandria man accused of attacking a priest in North Dakota claimed in court Thursday that the priest is a rapist.

In a court appearance in McHenry County, when asked if he posed a threat to anyone if released on bail, Chad Legare said "As long as John Doe didn't rape any other women, he's safe from me."

Legare is charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and burglary. Court records say the victim was strangled on Jan. 30 but survived.

Many of the police records were sealed by the court after North Dakota prosecutors argued that they could jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation. Also, because North Dakota law protects victims, the court records do not identify the priest. The victim is only referred to as John Doe.

However, officials in the Catholic Diocese of Fargo said Rev. Robert Wapenski, 62, was the victim. Wapenski did not reply to a request for comment from the Echo Press on Thursday.

Wapenski serves the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Anamoose, N.D., a town of 250 people about 100 miles northeast of Bismarck.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Diocese said it is “cooperating with law enforcement into the investigation of the assault of Father Wapenski and its surrounding circumstances. The Diocese encourages anyone with knowledge of a crime concerning a church worker to report the crime to appropriate authorities.”

Further, the Diocese said it received a report from Legare prior to the attack on Wapenski.

“We directed him to report the matter to the police and were informed that he had done so,” the statement reads. “The Diocese made contact with the alleged victim out of concern, and she denied (Legare’s) allegations.”

A woman who said she is Legare’s girlfriend told the Echo Press on Wednesday that she is the connection between Legare and Wapenski.

The woman, whom the Echo Press is not naming, said she’d met Chad Legare at a Minot, N.D., restaurant in November and they started dating.

That was a few months after she met Wapenski, a man she says she knew well.

Before meeting Legare in Minot, his future girlfriend was living in the South when she met a different man in an online sustainable living group. The man said she could learn about caring for livestock on his North Dakota farm. Last July, she packed her chickens and her daughter, now 9, into their truck and drove to North Dakota. When she got to the man’s farm, she said she found a dead horse on the ground and the man seemed creepy. They stayed one night, leaving the next morning.

They stopped in a North Dakota park where she gave her chickens to some people she met, fearing for the chickens’ well-being if they had to endure yet another long drive. It was at that park, she said, that she met Father Bob. After speaking with Wapenski, she decided to stay in the area, she said.

Wapenski, who lives in Anamoose, was ordained as a priest in the Fargo diocese in June 2005, Braun said. Wapenski was assaulted before 8 a.m. Court records indicate the attack happened in his home.

Legare was arrested in Alexandria on Monday and waived extradition to North Dakota.

Legare did not enter a plea Thursday. He has since been transferred to a jail in Rugby, North Dakota. His next court appearance is Feb 27.

McHenry County (N.D.) State’s Attorney Josh Frey said he could not comment on the investigation into the Wapenski assault case while it is ongoing.

About Wapenski

Wapenski attended Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo and a seminary in Ohio.

His North Dakota assignments have included being a parochial vicar at St. Michael's Church in Grand Forks from June 2005 to June 2007, and that same position at Holy Cross Church in West Fargo from June 2007 to January 2009. He then worked as church administrator for St. Margaret Mary's Church in Drake and St. Francis Xavier's Church until July 2009, when he was named pastor for both churches.

Braun said Wapenski is not currently at the parish, but is recuperating from his injuries.

Last weekend, a substitute priest handled Wapenski’s priestly duties, Braun said.

The Diocese statement said daily masses were canceled this week at the Anamoose and Drake parishes so Wapenski could recover from his injuries, but weekend masses will continue under the guidance and direction of another priest.

A surprise

The charges surprised those who knew Legare.

“I am just shocked that he would do something like that,” said Joni Vee, a friend who lives in Tracy.

Butch Cole, who owns Lake Country Meats in Alexandria, said Legare worked there for more than a year as a late-night cleaner. Legare also sold ice and distributed water refilling machines.

“He was fantastic,” Cole said. “I’d hire him back in a second. … He, to me, was a great guy.”

Legare has a criminal record in Minnesota, including a felony domestic assault by strangulation charge in Douglas County in July 2015 that was dismissed after he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

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Billi Jo Eriksmoen of the Mouse River Journal, Helmut Schmidt of Forum News Service and Al Edenloff of the Echo Press contributed to this report.

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