BALTIMORE (AP) — Breaking their silence. Wednesday, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland spoke out following the fatal hit-and-run crash involving the diocese’s No. 2 leader. Prosecutors say the 41-year-old was killed by Bishop Heather Cook, who was driving drunk and turned herself into authorities just days ago.

Rick Ritter has more on the letter that’s been released.

The diocese’s top bishop says the church is filled with anger and pain while Bishop Heather Cook remains behind bars on $2.5 million bond. They’re doing everything they can to support both her and the Palermo family.

Manslaughter and DUI are part of a slew of charges that turned Maryland Bishop Heather Cook into the talk of the state. The hit and run crash shattered the entire cycling community and took the life of a loving father of two.

“We love him so much and we’re just going to love him as much as we can,” said his brother-in-law, Jeff Hutling.

On December 27, 41-year-old Thomas Palermo was struck while riding his bike. Bishop Cook, who prosecutors say had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit, left the scene but later returned. Prosecutors say she was drunk and texting when she hit him along Roland Avenue. The state’s attorney says the 41-year-old was dying when Cook left the scene.

In a letter posted to their website, Cook’s boss, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Biship Eugene Sutton, says, “We’re in deep pain and words barely express the depth of our shock and despair over the events of the past two weeks.”

It continued, “There are still too many questions for which there are no easy answers, and we’re filled with anger, bitterness, pain and tears.”

Read the full letter.

“We’re in shock and there’s a lot of sorrow here,” said Sharon Tillman, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Now, for the first time, WJZ sat down with the Episcopal Diocese.

“In the church, [a letter] is one of the ways the bishop communicates with his people,” Tillman said.

We questioned their knowledge of Cook’s history of drunk driving, something she was arrested for four years ago and was still consecrated to the office of bishop despite it.

“Looking back in hindsight, that’s what we’re reacting to now,” Tillman said.

They say their focus right now is doing everything they can to help the Palermo family cope with their devastating loss.

“We know that’s going to take a lot of time and want them to know we’re praying for them every day,” she said.

Cook’s attorney says after the fatal accident in December, she spent 12 days at a rehab facility in Havre de Grace.

If convicted of all charges, she could face more than 20 years in prison. Cook’s next court hearing is February 6.

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Rick Ritter

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