Ogden man shot as he knelt to pray is expected to recover
Church leader focusing on bravery, charity — not on 'one act of evil'
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
OGDEN — Charles "Ricky" Jennings walked into the St. James the Just Catholic Church Sunday about an hour after Mass had started, holding his wife's hand.
The Rev. Erik J. Richtsteig thought it was a bit strange, noting that Jennings didn't attend church very often.
"I saw him walk in, and I thought something was odd. But I figured it was Father's Day, maybe he's bringing Cheryl to be with her dad. So I looked down, and then I heard the gunshot."
James Evans, Jennings' father-in-law, was in the back pew of the church with his family. Without saying a word, Jennings went over to Evans, and just as he had knelt down to pray, allegedly shot him in the head.
"He turned his head just at the right time. If he didn't turn his head, he would have been shot in the back of the head and be dead," his wife, Tara Evans, said during a press conference Monday at McKay-Dee Hospital Center.
After he was later arrested, Jennings allegedly told police: "I thought I missed." He said he didn't see what happened to his father-in-law after firing his shot because the rest of the congregation was coming "at him" so he ran off, a Weber County Jail report states.
The bullet entered near Evans' right ear and exited through his opposite cheek. Doctors say Evans has several more procedures and reconstruction surgeries ahead of him, but he should otherwise make a full recovery. He remained in critical condition Monday but was communicating with doctors and family members at the hospital through nodding, writing and hand gestures. He had received a tracheotomy and was unable to talk.
Jennings, 35, was arrested about 3 ½ hours later after police say he carjacked the vehicle of a man watering his garden with his 1-year-old child about a block away from the church. The pickup truck he allegedly stole at gunpoint eventually ran out of gas and police say he essentially turned himself in. He was booked into the Weber County Jail for investigation of attempted murder, aggravated robbery and possession of a firearm by a restricted person.
"I'm really proud of my parishioners. No one panicked. Their first response was to help Jim, then help Tara — then they were praying. So what more can you ask of people?" Father Richtsteig said.
He said counselors would be available for parishioners who were traumatized by the shooting, particularly the many children attending Mass on Sunday. Approximately 300 people were in the church, 495 N. Harrison St., at the time of the shooting.
The purpose of Monday's press conference was to thank the public and update everyone on Evans' condition. Police could not speculate Monday on a possible motive.
"Not knowing the state that Richard Jennings was in at the time, the motive is still a little unclear. It is believed there had been some domestic violence relationship problems that did expand into the extended family," said Ogden Police Lt. Danielle Croyle.
She said there were recent reports of domestic abuse between Jennings and his wife but details weren't immediately known Monday. Detectives were looking at the possibility of drugs or alcohol being a factor in the shooting and Croyle noted that toxicology tests had been sent to the Utah State Crime Lab for analysis. Despite the arrest, she said the case is still an "active investigation" with search warrants being served and many people being interviewed.
As of Monday, there was no evidence to suggest that Cheryl Jennings knew what was going to happen, even though she walked into the church with her husband, Croyle said. After the shooting, she ran off. The couple also have a young son who was staying with other relatives during the shooting.
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