EAST MILLCREEK — An East Millcreek neighborhood was in shock Thursday after two known members of their community shot and killed each other in a deadly confrontation in the street.
Jesse Lyle Bruner, 34, and Russell Reed Jacobs, 47, both died after shooting each other at very close range.
Jacobs was described as a beloved father, church leader and neighbor. Bruner, who grew up in the area and whose parents still live close to where the fatal double shooting occurred, had developed a reputation as a troubled person who had frequent run-ins with the law.
The deadly events began just after 2 a.m. when Bruner apparently tried to force his way into Jacobs' house, 3730 S. Twinbrook St. (3145 East), said Unified Police Lt. Lex Bell.
Bruner started banging on Jacobs' door as if he were attempting to break the locked door open, Bell said, either by kicking it or using his shoulder to ram it open. The noise woke up Jacobs, his wife and two children who were home. Jacobs got out of bed, grabbed his revolver and went to the door to investigate.
Whether he cracked the door open or just spoke to Bruner through the closed door was not immediately known Thursday, the lieutenant said. It also wasn't known whether Jacobs knew he was talking to Bruner.
The confrontation remained heated as Bruner continued to try and force his way in, according to Bell.
Eventually, Bruner ran off and Jacobs chased after him. Jacobs' 18-year-old son followed after his father.
After the two had gotten about four homes down the street, gunfire erupted.
Bell said detectives were still trying to determine Thursday who fired first. But based on statements from neighbors who heard the exchange of gunfire, as well as other undisclosed evidence, police believe Bruner turned around as he was running and fired his sawed-off single-round shotgun first, striking Jacobs.
Jacobs then shot back, police believe, possibly firing two rounds. Both were struck in the upper torso, Bell said.
The son was believed to be only a couple of feet behind his father and witnessed the shootings, Bell said.
"Adding to the tragedy, not only was the victim's son at the scene when this occurred, but also the wonderful residents of this neighborhood came out and attempted to resuscitate this victim," Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said.
Family and neighbors rushed outside to the street and attempted life-saving first aid for both men. One of the first neighbors who rushed outside is a doctor. Another is a retired federal agent. The doctor looked at both men, but when he couldn't find a pulse on Bruner, he focused his attention more on Jacobs, Bell said.
Despite their efforts, together with paramedics from Unified Fire Authority, Jacobs also died at the scene.
"We are all saddened by the tragic loss of Russell Jacobs. Rusty is a beloved father and husband. He is a dear friend and neighbor. His death is a great loss," said Wes Smith, a neighbor and family friend who acted as the family spokesman Thursday.
Jacobs worked as a wealth management adviser and a graduate of the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, according to his LinkedIn page. Employees at Cambridge Financial Center in Salt Lake City confirmed Jacobs was an employee there but declined further comment.
Jacobs was also a youth leader in his local LDS ward and reportedly led their youth activity over the summer. Because he was known by so many young adults in the neighborhood, the Granite School District sent crisis counselors to nearby Skyline High School Thursday morning. Jacobs' 18-year-old son graduated from Skyline in the spring, according to the school district.
"Just an incredible family. Salt of the earth," said neighbor Jonathan Diaz. "They're the family that put on the neighborhood block party and got everybody together to get everyone to know each other better. Rusty was easily one of the nicest guys I've ever met."
Diaz said it would probably take a few days for the impact of Jacobs' death to really sink in.
"The thing I remember most about Rusty was how genuine and nice he was," he said. "This is a loss we're all going to feel for a long time. Really, right now, I can't believe this is happening."
On the Facebook page of Jana Jacobs, Rusty Jacobs' wife, many people left messages of condolence Thursday.
"So sorry to hear what happened. You and your family are in my prayers!" one woman wrote.
"Rusty and I had a special bond as cousins. He is such a gentleman, loving husband, and fantastic father! My heart goes out to you Jana," wrote another man.
"I am so sorry Jana, Rusty will be dearly missed. The one comforting thing we know, is he is now in the loving arms of the Savior. We love you and your family and pray the Lord will carry you through this difficult time until you can stand on your own. Please let me know if there is anything we can do," wrote another.
It was not known Thursday why Bruner went to Jacobs' house. Bruner grew up in the Millcreek area and with his distinguishing facial tattoos was known by most residents, Bell said. Investigators believe Jacobs knew of Bruner, but whether the two were acquaintances or had spoken to each other in the past was not immediately known.
"That's the big question. Why him? Why this house?" the lieutenant said.
Most recently, police believe Bruner had been sleeping on the couches of different friends in the area each night.
Friends of Bruner also took to social media to mourn the loss of the man who they said had been like a brother to them.
"RIP Jesse! You always had my back (through) everything. Always talked me up and truly loved me like a brother. I will never forget you friend! You lived an amazing life," wrote one man.
"Jesse Bruner died today in a gun battle. Only now will he rest in peace. It is a sad day for everyone involved," wrote another man.
A friend who has known Bruner for more than 15 years said that growing up together, Bruner was a fun and generous friend who was always willing to listen to someone in need. Bruner was a father who loved his daughter and was passionate about drawing and his work as a tattoo artist.
The friend, who asked not to be identified, said he and Bruner lost touch several years ago when Bruner fell deep into an addiction to drugs.
"He made a lot of bad decisions," the man said. His troubles, including fighting, began as a teenager, and he may not have graduated high school. Friends and family tried to help Bruner, but even their best efforts didn't seem to have an impact.
Bruner and his friend spent time together a few years ago when, while on probation, Bruner got clean. During that time Bruner seemed to happy, was putting his life together and was working as a tattoo artist.
However, when the two saw each other at a party a month ago, the man said he sensed his friend had returned to his old ways.
"He seemed like he wasn't doing too well," the man said. "He seemed like he was on drugs. He was still happy-go-lucky, his personality was the same, but physically (he had changed)."
As he spoke with other friends Thursday, the man said all were surprised to learn that Bruner was carrying a gun when he showed up at the Jacobs home.
"No one is saying he was an angel by any means, but I would say this wasn't characteristic of him," the man said. "Obviously it's speculation, but I'm 100 percent convinced drugs were involved. Maybe he lost his mind, and I would assume it was because of drugs. Maybe he was high or was trying to get high."
While expressing grief and sympathy for the Jacobs family, the man emphasized that many were mourning Bruner's death, too.
"When this stuff happens, there are a lot of people who tend to see someone like (Bruner) as just a terrible person," he said. "He was loved and will be missed."
A search of Utah state court records indicates Bruner had a criminal history dating back to age 18, when he pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of threatening to use a weapon during a fight, a class B misdemeanor. He faced the same charge and pleaded guilty to a class A misdemeanor a year later.
Bruner was convicted of a felony in 2001 when he pleaded guilty to forgery, as well as theft by deception, a misdemeanor, while additional charges were dismissed.
Since 2012 he has also been convicted of misdemeanors including possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, intoxication and unlawful possession of a weapon. He was mostly recently charged in August with possession of drug paraphernalia and a warrant for his arrest was issued when he didn't show up for his first hearing in the case.
Court records indicate Bruner's wife filed for divorce earlier this month. The woman, who a friend said had been separated from Bruner for quite some time, declined comment Thursday.
On his Instagram page, Bruner listed himself as a tattoo artist and MC. There were several clips of him freestyle rapping and many examples of his tattoo work, as well as pictures of his own numerous tattoos. Friends say he worked at several tattoo parlors in years past but recently had been freelancing. In one Instagram video, Bruner announced he had just been released from jail and asked his followers to call him if they need a tattoo.
Salt Lake County Jail records listed more than 30 tattoos on Bruner, including a time bomb near his left eye, a spider under his mouth, "the word 'misfit' covered by a demon," a portrait of his daughter, and full sleeves on both arms and legs.
Investigators are asking anyone who may have seen Bruner in the past few days to help them re-trace his steps and contact the Violent Crimes Unit at 385-468-9820.
Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam; McKenzieRomero