OGDEN — A widespread police search ended north of Tremonton Sunday afternoon when police arrested a man suspected of shooting his father-in-law while the man was attending church services.
Police arrested Charles Richard Jennings, 35, on Interstate 84 at 3:40 p.m Sunday.
The search for Jennings started just after 11:30 a.m. Police said Jennings entered the St. James Catholic Church and shot the victim in the back of the head while he was sitting with his wife in the back of the church.
"This was a very specific desired target and action taken by the suspect," Ogden Police Lt. Danielle Croyle said. The motive for the shooting was not clear.
The shooting happened as parishioners were lining up to take Communion, according to one member of the congregation. Once the shot was fired, she said people began diving underneath the pews.
The gunman ran from the church at 495 N. Harrison Blvd. and ended up in the backyard of a home about a block away where the homeowner was watering the garden while his 19-month-old daughter played nearby.
He said the stranger jumped over the fence "in a state of distress." The homeowner, who asked not to be identified, said Jennings could hardly talk because he was breathing heavily and repeatedly said, "I need you to help me."
The gunman asked for the keys to the man's pickup truck and when the owner refused, the man pulled out a weapon and said he didn't want to hurt anybody. The homeowner then decided to comply and said the man came into the house while he retrieved the keys. He said the gunman also demanded a cellphone and left immediately.
The owner of the truck said he held his daughter and tried to keep himself between the man and his daughter during the incident. During the frightening encounter, his wife was asleep in the other room and had no knowledge of what was happening.
"The day that I can't even hang out in the backyard with my daughter, that's a pretty sad day," the man said. "I knew I had to keep calm. I didn't know how that was going to end."
He said he is grateful for the outcome of the situation but added, "The thought that my daughter was involved in it is horrifying for me."
Investigators were soon able to determine that Jennings was heading north in the stolen pickup on I-15, Croyle said. Jennings eventually ran out of gas on I-84 and then continued to flee on foot. At some point, he made a phone call to a family member asking for help.
"He wanted to turn himself in," Croyle said.
Family members contacted authorities with the information to help them find Jennings, who authorities were not chasing at the time, she said. Using the information from his phone call, Box Elder County sheriff's deputies and the Utah Highway Patrol were able to find Jennings and eventually take him into custody.
Croyle said authorities were interviewing Jennings and he was expected to be booked into the Weber County Jail.
Jennings' father-in-law, whose name was not released, was taken to McKay-Dee Hospital in critical condition where he underwent surgery.
Rev. Erik Richtsteig said people in the congregation were really rattled. He described the ordeal as "something no one should have to go through." The reverend said when the gunman left the church, some parishioners chased after him.
"Nowhere is immune from evil and it's what people do when they're confronted with it that really shows their character," Rev. Richtsteig said. "I'm really proud of my people here at the church."
The victim was described as a longtime member of the congregation.
Tammi Roe described Jennings as "happy-go-lucky." She said she often saw him when he would visit his mother, her neighbor, and she never saw him do anything violent.20 comments on this story
"I can't picture him ever doing that," she said. "I've never seen him angry or mad or anything."
Utah court records indicate that Jenson has a criminal history. In 2002, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor theft and got 30 days in jail. He pleaded no contest to criminal trespass in 2002, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 90 days in prison for criminal mischief in 2004, and also pleaded guilty to felony theft and attempted tampering with a witness/juror that same year. The tampering charge was amended to a misdemeanor.
A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday with the family of the victim, doctors and staff at the hospital where the victim underwent surgery. KSL TV and radio will broadcast the press conference live.
Contributing: Sandra Yi