MAGNA — Police shot and killed a 15-year-old who fired two shots at officers Sunday morning, leaving more questions than answers from the troubling confrontation with the teenager.
The teen was identified as Sean Morrison, a young man who has had repeated contact with police and has a history of mental difficulty. Police had frequented the teen's home, which was also the site of alleged illicit activity by the teen's father, who is in jail facing sexual abuse charges for activities with a teen girl.
Police responded shortly after 8:30 a.m. to an emergency call from the boy's mother saying that the teen had left his house at 3845 S. Westgate Circle clad in a black ski mask and bulletproof vest along with a .45-caliber handgun.
According to Unified Police, he told his mother he was leaving the house so that he would not hurt anyone.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said Morrison was seen by witnesses walking through his western Salt Lake County neighborhood when he eventually confronted officers, firing at least two shots.
"The suspect continued to run through the neighborhood … subsequently barricading himself near a vehicle," Winder said. "There was a confrontation where the suspect fired first … our officers returned fire striking the individual a minimum of four times."
Morrison was transported to Pioneer Valley Hospital in extremely critical condition and later succumbed to his injuries.
The sheriff called the incident a tragedy, noting the circumstances surrounding the victim and his emotional well-being left the law enforcement veteran wondering if something could have been done to prevent the fatal outcome.
"The family involved in this has had repeated contact with law enforcement over the past several weeks, if not months," he said. "Our hearts go out to the family. This is just a bad, bad situation."
An unidentified woman who answered the door at a home belonging to the boys' relatives, said only: "Sean was a beautiful person."
Winder said the teen's actions led police to believe he intended "to engage in violent activity," but to what extent was not known.
He said the boy had taken the weapon from a locked storage site at the family home. The mother tried to stop him, but was unsuccessful — prompting the call to police.
Winder said the teen was believed to have made comments to neighbors as he left the house "that he was bent on violence."
Whether the boy wanted to commit "suicide by cop," however, was purely speculative, Winder said. "Suicide by cop" refers to those who engage in threatening behavior against police in order to draw their fire and end their own lives.
"But there is no question that this situation was a violent encounter waiting to happen," he said.
Before the teenager was taken down by police, he was spotted walking through the neighborhood by residents, including Magna resident Adam Sheppick, who lives near the site of the fatal shooting.
"I heard two shots, so I looked out my front window," he said. "I saw a man wearing a black ski mask and black trench coat. Saw a cop approaching him (in a car). At that point he raised his gun (and) fired two more shots."
He said the officer swerved and looked as though he tried to strike the suspect with the police cruiser, but drove onto another street. At that point, the gunman just kept walking down the street.
Sheppick said considering the circumstances, the teen seemed eerily relaxed and was very methodical in his manner.
"He looked like he was out for a 'Sunday stroll,'" Sheppick said. "He didn't act a bit alarmed or scared at all. He was as calm as could be."
He said the gunman fired directly at the officer's windshield, but he could not tell of the car was hit.
Sheppick said he heard more gunshots about 20 minutes later and walked outside in time to see the teenager being loaded into an ambulance.
Another resident, Charlie Johnson, was leaving his home Sunday morning when he also noticed a police car driving slowly down the street with a search light on. Moments later he saw the gunman raise his weapon and fire on the police cruiser.
"He fired at least four more shots at the officer's vehicle," Johnson said. "He turned around and starting walking toward us, then raised his gun but didn't fire."
Johnson said he drove his car in reverse away from the gunman.
"I was scared when the (shooter) started going (toward me) and raised his gun," he said. "The shooter was really calm … no sudden movements or anything."
Winder said the 15-year year old had a history of interaction with law enforcement, including some incidents of violence. But he would not elaborate.
"The bottom line is that this is a family in absolute chaos," Winder said. "There is little doubt that this situation was fomenting for some time."
Police confirmed Sunday that the boy's father, Barry Morrison, is in jail. A search of court records reveals that the man was charged with 12 separate felonies for the alleged sexual abuse of a 17-year-old girl. The abuse is alleged to have occurred at the Magna home on Westgate Circle.
Winder said the boy had undergone a mental health evaluation after engaging in some criminal behavior and has a history of emotional and mental instability.
The young man has had significant troubles in the past, Winder said.
"We'll have to review why and how we could have intervened earlier," he said. "I don't want to characterize the system as failing, but he have to look at how we're managing these situations."