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Man accused of killing son in Ballpark murder-suicide was Salt Lake City employee

The man didn’t initially receive custody of his son after his 2019 divorce, but court documents show he had retained custody of the boy by the time of their deaths.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Ballpark home of Samuel Owen, who Salt Lake City police say killed his 6-year-old son before killing himself on Saturday night, pictured on West Van Buren Avenue in Salt Lake City, Monday, May 20, 2024.

The man who police say shot and killed his 6-year-old son before fatally shooting himself Saturday night at their Ballpark home was a Salt Lake City employee who had recently filed for bankruptcy, court filings show.

Samuel B. Owen, 34, filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy documents in April that stated he was facing more than $546,800 in debt. The filings detailed his financial troubles, as well as the custody status of his 6-year-old child. The latest documents were filed in the case Thursday.

Owen and the child’s mother divorced in 2019, court records show. While the boy’s mother initially retained custody, Owen ultimately received custody of the child sometime later, bankruptcy records indicate. He and the boy had since been living in Owen’s home on Van Buren Avenue near Main Street, and the child was attending first grade at Uintah Elementary School.

Salt Lake City police were called to the home on Saturday at around 10:30 p.m. on a report of a “possible death,” police said in a news release. Inside, officers found Owen and the boy dead. Officers are investigating the case as an apparent murder-suicide.

The Police Department on Monday declined to release additional information about the deaths, adding that the Owen family had requested privacy and did not wish to be contacted by news organizations. The Salt Lake Tribune has requested police documents that would indicate whether officers had previously been called to Owen’s address.

In a statement, Salt Lake City police Chief Mike Brown called the deaths ”a very tragic moment for our community.”

“These are among the most difficult calls for service our officers, detectives, crime lab technicians, victim advocates, and social workers handle,” the statement continued. “My condolences and prayers are with those impacted by this loss.”

‘Unfathomable tragedy’

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Uintah Elementary School is pictured in Salt Lake City, Monday, May 20, 2024. A child who attended the school was killed Saturday night in what police are investigating as a murder-suicide.

Owen worked as a policy analyst for Salt Lake City, the bankruptcy filings indicate. Salt Lake City Council Chair Victoria Petro confirmed Monday that he was a member of the City Council’s staff.

In a statement, Petro said, “Sam was a cherished colleague and friend with unparalleled intelligence and compassion. He will be greatly missed.”

She declined to comment further “out of respect for the family’s privacy.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also released a statement Monday, writing that she is “heartbroken by this unfathomable tragedy.”

“Sam was a dear colleague and a friend to so many of us in City Hall,” the statement continued. “My heart aches for the Owen family and grieves with our city team and the broader community who are struggling with this situation.”

Authorities have not publicly identified Owen’s son. But Uintah Elementary principal Bruce Simpson sent an email to school parents and families on Sunday evening acknowledging the deaths, a school district spokesperson confirmed Monday.

The email, obtained by The Tribune, told parents that both the boy and his father had died, but it also did not name the child or provide more detail about the situation.

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the child’s family, friends, and the community,” the email read.

It added: “Death can be difficult for us to understand, especially when it is sudden. All of us will be feeling a variety of emotions: shock, sadness, or confusion. What is most important is that we care for and support each other”

Simpson wrote that the school on Monday intended to notify students in the boy’s class of his death, as well as all other first grade students. The school district’s crisis-response team, which includes counselors, were on campus Monday and will be available through the week, according to the email.

The school district spokesperson on Monday declined to release additional information or comment, including whether the school planned to hold a memorial service or vigil for the child.

Father had no significant criminal history

State court records indicate Owen has never been charged in Utah criminal court, but his then-wife had filed a protective order against him shortly before he filed for divorce in January 2019.

Divorce records stipulated that the child’s mother, who lived in St. George, would have custody of their child, and that Owen would generally see him two weekends a month, meeting in Fillmore for pick-up for one visit and meeting at the mother’s house in St. George for the other.

After the divorce filing, Owen was cited for speeding on Interstate 15 three times — in Mona, Levan and Toquerville — all on Sundays, court records show. The last citation was in March 2020.

It is not clear when exactly the custody arrangement changed. But the child’s mother in March 2022 was charged in 5th District Court with multiple felony counts of criminal mischief and graffiti violations, as well as misdemeanor burglary and trespassing counts.

The charges stemmed from allegations that she and a man had damaged property at “development sites and homes under construction” in Washington County between May and November in 2020, including causing more than $470,000 in damage at an excavation site in St. George’s Tonaquint area; the Black Desert Resort site in Ivins; and The Ledges luxury development and golf course in St. George.

Charging documents noted the damage methods have been “mentioned in environmental activist sabotage guides.”

Many of the counts initially filed against them were dismissed, with the woman ultimately pleading guilty to one count each of criminal mischief, graffiti violations and burglary, court records indicate. She was given a suspended sentenced and ordered to spend 120 days on house arrest and pay restitution in November 2022.

She successfully completed probation in October 2023, court records show, and was reported to be living alone in St. George.

As of April, Owen reported in bankruptcy documents that he was not owed any child support, that his child lived with him and that the child’s mother had “agreed to suspend child support,” according to bankruptcy records. The documents also note that Owen paid approximately $400 a month on “travel costs for [his] son to visit his mother.”