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Neighboring minister, alleged shooter's family react to bishop's killing

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 7:49 a.m. MDT

VISALIA, Calif. – The tragic events of past 24 hours that left a Mormon bishop dead have left a neighboring minister and the family of the alleged killer with heavy hearts.

Mike Ward, the younger brother of alleged shooter Kenneth James Ward, told the Vasilia-Times Delta that his brother was mentally ill and felt wronged by the LDS Church – a church which he belonged to in the 1980s. His brother said Kenneth believed he had been "shunned to hell" by a bishop in 1988, and that is why he asked for a bishop when he went to the church in Visalia on Sunday.

The gun used in the violent act belonged to Ward's grandfather, Mike Ward said.

Mike Ward, a Bakersfield resident, said the shooting was not politically motivated or a result of Prop. 8. Mike said the Ward family is sorry for what happened.

KSL.com reported that the LDS Church confirmed Kenneth James Ward was a member.

From his office on Tulare Avenue, Ben Meraz, the director of youth ministries at Grace Lutheran Church, told the Deseret News' Mormon Times he can see the where police covered the bullet holes in the windows at the LDS Church building across the street.

Less than an hour after 47-year-old Kenneth James Ward walked into the Mormon church meetinghouse and allegedly shot 40-year-old Bishop Clay Sannar on Sunday afternoon, concerned phone calls and e-mails began pouring in to Meraz at Grace Lutheran.

"They were all curious to know if everyone was OK, knowing we are in close proximity to where the incident happened," Meraz said. "Word gets around a small town fast."

Meraz didn't know Sannar, who had only been serving as the Mormon ward's bishop for a few months, but some of his Meraz's are friends with members of the LDS congregation. Grace Lutheran, the Gateway Church of Visalia and Mount Whitney High School are neighbors to the LDS building at the intersection of Conyer Street and Tulare Avenue.

There is some fear in the religious community following the violent act, Meraz said.

"It certainly brings you to attention. There is a greater awareness to the frailty of life," Meraz said. "As details surfaced, it stopped me in my tracks knowing it could have been anyone."

Meraz expressed his love, compassion and prayers for the Sannar family and the local members of LDS church, along with a message of hope for better things to come.

"Life is fleeting. They have a hope that is beyond this life in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," Meraz said. "Certainly this is a time for growth and a time to search for answers, for those in the religious community and those who are not."

e-mail: ttoone@desnews.com

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