Man arrested in shooting of father-in-law inside Ogden church
Ogden • It had been a routine Sunday morning Mass.
Rebecca Hernandez, sitting far back in church, heard the door open behind her and wondered who had arrived so late. As the priest prepared to administer communion, the most important part of the service, she stood to pray.That's when the gunshot rang out.
Hernandez immediately grabbed her young son and put him under the pew as she got to the floor. Someone screamed and another person yelled for everyone to get down. She waited to hear more gunshots. When they didn't come, she got up to find that a fellow parishioner, who had been sitting a row behind her, apparently had been shot in the head.
Ogden police were trying to determine why the man's 35-year-old son-in-law, Charles Richard Jennings Jr., of North Ogden, walked into the Catholic church and allegedly shot him.
"How dare he do that in our sweet, peaceful little church," Hernandez said in a telephone interview Sunday night.
Police said Jennings ran from the church into a nearby neighborhood and stole a truck from a stranger at gunpoint. He was captured several hours later walking along Interstate 84 in Box Elder County after the truck ran out of gas as he apparently attempted to flee to Idaho.
Ogden police Lt. Danielle Croyle said Jennings' father-in-law and his family were attending Sunday morning services just before noon at St. James the Just Catholic Church, 495 N. Harrison Blvd., when Jennings walked into the church, pulled out a gun and shot the man in the back of the head.
After Jennings left the church, Hernandez said several men ran after him. She said she and another woman wrapped their scarves around the victim's head and applied pressure to the wound, which Hernandez recalled appeared to be on the lower part of his skull. She said she recited the Hail Mary over and over until paramedics arrived.
"Evil came to a holy place," said Crislee Moreno, the church director of religious education.
Meanwhile, according to Croyle, Jennings was brandishing his gun at the owner of a GMC pickup.
Jennings was found by authorities on the interstate about 3:40 p.m. He was taken into custody without incident on suspicion of attempted aggravated criminal homicide and aggravated robbery, Croyle said. Utah Highway Patrol troopers and deputies from the Box Elder County Sheriff assisted in Jennings' apprehension, she said.
The injured man, whom police declined to identify on Sunday, was transported to McKay-Dee Hospital Center for treatment. He was listed in critical condition Sunday afternoon.
In a blog posting, the Rev. Erik Richtsteig, pastor of the church, said he was "very proud of how the parishioners reacted. They prayed, remained calm, helped the victim, made sure the shooter was away from the church. That was God's grace at work."
He also said the victim had undergone surgery and was going to be OK.
On Sunday, there was no explanation for what happened.
"We don't know the motive," Croyle said. "It is a domestic violence-related incident."
Herschel Hester, a deacon at the church, said the man and his wife are "very good people" who are longtime parishioners and are very active in the church community.
Jennings' criminal history is limited to lower-level felonies and a misdemeanor, including theft and drug possession. In 2004, Jennings was convicted of theft and trying to tamper with a witness or juror, for which he served about a year in prison, according to Steve Gehrke, Utah Department of Corrections spokesman.
The Sunday 6 p.m. Mass was canceled. On his Facebook page, Richtsteig said no services could be held because the church was a crime scene.
Richtsteig tried to focus on the positive.
"I am not going to think about the act of one evil man. I am going to think about the many acts of goodness, kindness and bravery of many good people. I feel blessed," he wrote on the blog.