Bible Mistaken for Gun in Shooting

A man who claimed to be armed with a weapon when he charged at two Elizabeth officers was later found to be carrying a Bible, authorities said today.

Mark Venuti, 36, was shot at about 9:40 p.m. Saturday when police responded to a Canton Street apartment complex for a reported dispute between neighbors.

A neighbor, Peggy Lynch, said the unidentified officers knocked on Venuti's apartment door and identified themselves.

"I heard Mark scream 'I'm armed, don't come in,'" Lynch told The Star-Ledger of Newark for today's editions. "And then I turned around and ran."

Authorities said Venuti then opened the door and charged at the officers while holding a dark object above his head. One officer shot Venuti in the stomach, and Venuti then turned and charged toward the other officer, demanding that the officer also shoot him.

Suicide by Cop?

The first officer then fired a second shot, and Venuti fell to the floor, police said. He was taken to University Hospital in Newark, where he died at about 1:40 a.m. on Sunday.

No weapon was found at the scene, and police later discovered that the object Venuti was holding was a Bible.

"The investigation will include the possibility that this was a suicide by cop," said Richard Rodbart, deputy first assistant prosecutor for Union County. The prosecutor's office is required to investigate all police shootings.

Venuti's wife, April, said her husband suffered from depression and recently had tried to hang himself with a telephone cord. But she questioned why deadly force was needed.

"When he came out [of the apartment], he had a Bible in his hand and a Bible doesn't look like a gun," April Venuti said.