Friends of man fatally shot by passerby during fight worry lethal force was unnecessary


That’s how Elizabeth Jenks described police reports that her friend Jeremy Sorensen was on the ground, fighting with an 18-year-old woman, when a passerby shot him to death.

Sorensen was the person who could calm down Jenks’ 3-year-old daughter during church and soothe her to sleep, she said. He was a voracious reader, Jenks said, and a loyal friend, though he often struggled to communicate and understand social cues.

“It only took maybe 10 minutes into a conversation to realize how soft his heart was,” Jenks said.

Sorensen and the woman were fighting just before 8 p.m. outside of an apartment building near 500 North and 200 East when the passerby pulled his car up, got out, pulled out his gun and “yelled at” Sorensen, said Provo Police Sgt. Nisha King. The passerby “gave warnings” to Sorensen, who “did not respond" — so the passerby shot him twice, striking him at least once in the chest, King said.

The 18-year-old woman, whose name was not released, also was taken to the hospital for minor injuries she suffered in the fight with Sorensen, 26.

“That was shocking to me to hear that he was that aggressive toward another person,” Jenks said.

Less shocking, she said, was officers’ report that Sorensen did not immediately respond when the shooter threatened him with a gun.

“Now that I’m thinking more about his communication difficulties, I think it came down to a processing delay. It took him a little bit to sit back and think about things," said Jenks, who met Sorensen three years ago when he began attending Redeemer Church in Orem, where her husband is pastor.

Though he never disclosed any formal diagnosis, his friends believed he was on the autism spectrum, said Haley Sotelo, another friend of Sorensen’s from church. “Some of the signs were a lack of eye contact, not always being willing to speak, social anxiety,” Sotelo said.

Sotelo and Jenks both worried that Sorensen’s atypical reactions might be part of the reason the passerby shot him.

“I do think maybe the processing delay did play into the fact that he didn’t stop,” Jenks said. “It doesn’t make sense for someone not to stop when confronted by a gun, unless there’s something else happening.”

But Jenks and Sotelo also said they doubted the gun was necessary in the first place.

“Lethal action wasn’t necessary. The guy could have called the police and let them handle it. Or he could have pushed [Sorensen]. They did not have to use a gun. There wasn’t a weapon in sight. Not everything has to be met with gun violence," Sotelo said. “[I] honestly wonder if the shooter would have shot so quickly had Jeremy been white and not black.”

“I do feel that excessive force was used in this situation,” Jenks agreed. “I do feel like if it was another white guy off the street, a different course of action would have been taken and someone wouldn’t have lost their life.”

Police have not released the shooter’s name, or the name of the woman Sorensen was fighting with. The woman was “absolutely traumatized,” said King, who said the two were “acquaintances.”

The shooter is “cooperating,” with police, King said. The fight and the shooting took place in front of BYU-approved student housing, but King said police don’t know if Sorensen, the passerby or the woman are BYU students.

The passerby has not been charged; King said the case is being reviewed by the Utah County Attorney’s Office.