Police search for motive in Nevada Mormon church shooting
FALLON, Nev. (AP) — Police in the rural northern Nevada town of Fallon were trying to determine why a 48-year-old man opened fire inside his Mormon church on Sunday, killing one man and injuring another.
Fallon Police Chief Kevin Gehman said it does not appear that 48-year-old gunman John Kelley O’Connor was targeting the church but instead was focused on an individual victim.
Charles E. “Bert” Miller, 61, was killed after O’Connor walked up to him and shot him, according to Miller’s daughter.
Authorities have not released the name of a second man who was shot in the leg and treated at a hospital.
O’Connor was charged with murder and battery with substantial harm and was being held at the Churchill County Jail on a $1,050,000 bond, the police chief said Monday morning.
It wasn’t immediately clear Monday if he had an attorney. No one could be reached to comment on his behalf at O’Connor’s listed phone number.
O’Connor sat in the church for at least part of the services before opening fire shortly after it started, city spokeswoman Kaitlin Ritchie said. She said city officials didn’t have details about exactly where the two men were located.
After the shooting, O’Connor walked to his home around the block from the church. Police and sheriff’s deputies surrounded his home. A hostage negotiator spoke to O’Connor over the phone, and the man agreed to exit and surrender with his hands up, police said.
Gehman said police seized a handgun that appeared to match one used at the church and several other items from O’Connor’s home but did not yet know the man’s motive.
“We are trying to piece together the information we have to determine the reasons,” Gehman told The Associated Press.
Miller’s daughter Heidi Ayers told the Deseret News that the family doesn’t know what prompted the shooting. Ayers said her father shook O’Connor’s hand before the meeting started and had been acquainted with the man for years.
Ayers said her father was shot when he was sitting on a bench in the back with his brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from Utah. His wife, who is being treated for cancer, was not in church but instead stayed home that day with a broken ankle, Ayers said.
Miller was a 35-year veteran of the local volunteer fire department, according to police, and was also a mechanic and owner of an auto part store. His helmet and other fire equipment with his name were left at makeshift memorial at the fire department where the flag flew at half-staff on Monday.
“He was one of the most selfless, soft-spoken, kind people I know,” Ayers said of her dad.
A church member, Steve White, told the newspaper that when the shooting started, “pandemonium broke out. People were screaming and hitting the ground.”
Jacquie Hettinger, who lives across the street from O’Connor, told The Associated Press that she’s known him for more than a decade as a kind man who helped her care for her husband when he was sick.
“I’m just devastated,” Hettinger said. “I don’t know what happened.”
Craig Health, 66, and his wife, Connie, have lived across the street from Miller for 25 years. He said he can’t figure out why anyone would want to shoot him.
“The whole neighborhood is in shock,” Heath told AP on Monday.
“He was always smiling, easy going,” he said about the man who also was an active volunteer in the Boy Scouts. “He never had a bad word for anyone and if you needed help, he’d come over and help you out.”
There were about 50 people in the church at the time of the shooting.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not allow guns in church meetings.
“We express our love to those in this congregation and our prayers for the victims and their families. Local leaders are ministering to them at this time,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement.
Zachary Taylor, a neighbor of O’Connor’s, said he didn’t know the man well but often saw him working outside in his garage tinkering with a jet ski.
“It’s pretty shocking,” Taylor said. “I saw him the day before the shooting and he didn’t seem unstable or violent or particularly unhappy.”
O’Connor ran for the state Legislature in 2010 and 2014, first as a Democrat and then as a Libertarian.
An archived version of his campaign website, accessed through the Internet Archive website, shows O’Connor campaigned in 2014 on a platform of increased term limits for public officials, less federal regulation of firearms and the transfer of public lands from the U.S. government to state control.
O’Connor is scheduled to make his first court appearance later this week, Gehman said.
Fallon is about 60 miles (96 kilometers) east of Reno and has a population of about 8,700 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Price reported from Las Vegas.