Former Pastor Accused of Choking and Trying to 'Steal' a Baby at Wal-Mart
A former pastor has been identified by police as the man who allegedly choked a stranger’s baby in a Kansas Wal-Mart on Wednesday, PEOPLE confirms.
Oleh Zhownirovych of Clifton, New Jersey, has been charged with felony aggravated battery and attempted kidnapping, officials in Overland Park, Kansas, officials tell PEOPLE.
Zhownirovych is accused of choking a woman’s 4-month-old daughter in the store’s checkout line on Wednesday morning, according to Overland Park police spokesman John Lacy.
He says that Quisha Hill told police she was bagging her groceries when Zhownirovych allegedly grabbed her daughter’s car seat out of the shopping cart and said, “I’m taking the baby, I’m stealing her. I’m taking her.”
Hill told police that Zhownirovych choked the girl and also raised her car seat — with her still in it — over his head as he yelled, Lacy says.
Hill said she started screaming, and a shopper and security guard noticed what was happening and tackled the suspect.
The 54-year-old was once a pastor at a New Jersey Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral, Lacy says.
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“This is a very weird case, a very unique case,” Lacy tells PEOPLE. “I applaud the bystander and the security guard who were there and who helped the lady. Those guys are heroes.”
The baby was red in the face for a few minutes after the incident but was otherwise unharmed, Lacy tells PEOPLE.
In a statement, Wal-Mart reportedly said it was cooperating with police: “Our main concern right now is for our customer and her child. We’re appalled this happened in our store.”
Hill told police that Zhownirovych appeared to be under the influence, allegedly taking the car seat and placing it over his head as if it were a hat.
After being detained at the scene, Zhownirovych was taken to a local hospital by police for a medical and mental evaluation. The incident doesn’t appear to be alcohol related, Lacy says, though authorities are awaiting blood test results.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 23 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Lacy tells PEOPLE. “Just due to the fact that a total stranger just walks up to your cart and picks up the baby and just starts [attempting] to strangle it. It’s something.”
It’s unclear how long Zhownirovych had been in the Overland Park area, Lacy says. Though Zhownirovych does not appear to be fluent in English, he was able to ask for an attorney and had an interpreter with him during the booking process.
It does not appear Zhownirovych has a criminal history, Lacy says.
He is being held in the county jail on $100,000 bond, according to officials, and is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 27. It was not immediately clear if he has entered a plea or retained an attorney.