PROVO — Those who worshipped and drank coffee with Jeremy Sorensen had the same thought when they learned he was shot and killed by a passerby who had spotted him in a violent struggle with a woman.
"This can't be our Jeremy. This isn't him," said Troy Walker, a pastor at Redeemer Church in Orem, where the 26-year-old Sorensen was a member.
Walker and Steven McKinley, also a member of the congregation, remember their friend was social and upbeat, even if anxious at times. He had not had an easy start in life, they said.
As police wrapped up their investigation Thursday, Sorensen's friends and family members said the authorities' account of the last moments of his life does not line up with the Jeremy they knew.
About 8 p.m. Monday, Sorensen and an 18-year-old acquaintance were fighting in the driveway of an apartment complex, Provo police said, when a driver in his 20s got out of his car and told Sorensen to stop, warning he would shoot. The gunman shot Sorensen twice, including once in the chest, said Provo Sgt. Nisha King, and Sorensen died later at a hospital. She declined to release the name of the gunman, who she said has cooperated with investigators.
The woman was treated for a concussion and hip injuries consistent with being repeatedly punched and kicked. Police withheld her name and have not said how she and Sorensen knew each other or what led to the violence.
On Thursday, Sorensen's cousin, Mike Olson, said Sorensen sometimes struggled to process things due to a brain injury he sustained early in life.
"He would not have acted out violently if he was not provoked," Olson said in an email. "I hope that through a thorough investigation the police will be able to figure out what led to this. Jeremy has been described by friends as childlike, which is very accurate. He wasn't an intimidating or imposing person, but rather gentle."
Sorensen's church friends recalled him as a skeptic who loved to read and worked multiple jobs, both in construction and fast-food restaurants. He was adopted by a Utah County family after a time in foster care and sometimes visited his birth mother in Texas, they said, part of an effort to come to terms with his complex family life.
McKinley often tried to get a rise out of Sorensen by making off-color jokes, but found his friend was unflappable.
"I never saw him out of control," McKinley said.
Walker, the pastor, noticed some of Sorensen's traits mirrored those of his own adoptive brother.
"It helped me put who Jeremy was in context," Walker said. "It would help me see past some of that initial awkwardness or initial quietness, to see who he was at his core."
Sorensen spent time with Walker and others in the congregation at coffee shops, their homes and at church, and would crack jokes and challenge others to think critically about their faith.
Walker, who is from Texas, noted Provo is home to very few black residents. But he said he could not be sure if race had played a role in the shooting.
"If race did play a role, I don't believe it was that the shooter disliked African-Americans. I believe it would have to do with fear of the unknown," he said.
Sorensen's brother, Joseph Sorensen, said in a statement he suspects the woman from that fateful encounter is the same woman who he says had been harassing his brother for about a year.
"We certainly wish the shooter would have pulled out a phone rather than a gun. We also wish Jeremy had called the police before ending up in a fight with this woman but we wonder if it would have turned out any better if he had — especially if it was the woman who has been harassing him," the statement reads.
Sorensen's adoptive family raised him in Tooele along with eight siblings, and he attended then-Dixie State College for a time before working on an organic farm in Arizona, according to an online obituary. He loved fishing, "Lord of the Rings" and comic con, and leaves behind his own young son being raised by an adoptive family with whom he had a positive relationship. His funeral is scheduled for Friday morning.
About the same time, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt will meet with Provo police to review their investigation. There is no deadline on a possible decision to file criminal charges against the gunman, Leavitt told the Deseret News, but his office will work at a "reasonable pace."
"I want to see the whole picture," Leavitt said. His approach won't be "to look for hate crimes where they may not be there, but to be willing to be open to the possibility, if you see evidence of that. This is a fair and balanced analysis."
Leavitt said it's his job to protect civil order and guard against vigilante justice, but also to recognize that people have a right and maybe an obligation to help victims of crimes.
One main question, he said, is Sorensen's mental state.18 comments on this story
"What was he doing with this victim? Was he trying to kill her? That has to be a relevant question to answer the question of whether there was justification to shoot," Leavitt said.
Utah's self-defense law stipulates that people are justified in using deadly force if they reasonably believe it is needed to prevent death or serious injury to themselves or others. Such violence is justified when the threat stems from imminent, unlawful force, or if it's needed to prevent a forcible felony, Utah code states.