GARDEN GROVE, Calif. -- A man shot himself in the head Wednesday morning at the altar of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove and died at the scene, police said.
Police were called at 9:40 a.m. to the cathedral at 12141 Lewis St., said Garden Grove police Lt. Todd Elgin.
Church ushers said that a middle-aged man entered the church, saying he wanted to pray. The unidentified man walked up three steps to the altar area, knelt before a gold cross and put the gun to his head, said John Charles, director of public relations for the church.
"I was at the door greeting and I said, 'Welcome to the Crystal Cathedral. Where are you from?' which we ask everybody. He said, 'Oh, around here.' He was in a hurry, but he wasn't frustrated or anything -- it didn't look like that anyway," said church volunteer Betty Spicer.
Spicer, 84, said the man handed her a note and said, "You may want this."
"So he went on down to the cross, and I opened the note and saw that it looked like it was ... a note that he was going to do something because he mentioned about a gun and about the pickup in the parking lot. And so, I didn't have time to call 911. But before we knew it, we heard the shot," Spicer said.
"He did not give any sign that he was going to do that. He just came, like any other tourist, to pray," said pastor Juan Carlos Ortiz. "I think God will have mercy on him, because he must have been very desperate to do what he did."
Charles said about six people, including a tourist group from Canada and one or two tour guides, were inside the church at the time. Volunteer Yvette Manson, 76, says she was explaining the church's suicide hotline with tourists when she heard the shot.
"We were talking actually about the suicide prevention hotline that we have here at our church and telling them it's opens 24 hours, seven days a week, and then just then, I heard this pop. Now the people that I was talking with were facing toward where the cross is. I had my back to the cross," Manson said.
Manson told the tour group that the noise was a blown-out window.
"They said 'No, that man just shot himself,'" Manson said.
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Manson said everyone remained calm and used cell phones to call police.
According to the group's website, "the Crystal Cathedral is the home base for the international Crystal Cathedral Ministries, including a congregation of over 10,000 members and the internationally televised 'Hour of Power.'"
The Crystal Cathedral's founder, the Rev. Robert Schuller, was not on site at the time of the suicide. He is in Hawaii to give a motivational speech and take some time off, Charles said.
Tough Times for Cathedral
Last month, an executive pastor, his wife and pastor who headed cathedral's Hispanic ministry were laid off due to financial issues, the Orange County Register reported.
Rick Mysse, of the Reform Church of America, which oversees the Crystal Cathedral, told the newspaper that "The church had to get rid of some payroll. These are really a group of great, talented people. But our numbers are down and we're trying to make it under tough economic conditions like everyone else."
Churchexecutive.com reported that the church put a 170-acre property in Rancho Capistrano up for sale last May. The ministry is also selling the Robert H. Schuller Family Life Center, a four-story office building, the site reported.
According to the site, "The church is looking for a lease-back arrangement. The church in the past has denied that the church is headed for bankruptcy."
Last Church Shooting Was in 2004
A church worker shot and killed himself in the church after a nine-hour standoff with police on Dec. 17, 2004.
Church musical director Johnnie Wayne Carl, 57, shot himself in one of the bathroom areas, according to Garden Grove police.
Editorial note: NBC Los Angeles does not usually report suicides, but because of the location, relevance and speed of the story, we chose to include it on our site.