OGDEN, Utah (AP) — A Utah man is expected to survive after his son-in-law walked into Father’s Day Catholic Mass and shot him in the head in front of a congregation of 300 people, many of whom hit the floor, then helped try to stop the bleeding and chase after the suspect.
James Evans, 65, was in critical condition Monday, but has made steady progress, said Dr. Barbara Kerwin, the director of the intensive care unit at McDay-Dee Hospital in Ogden. The bullet went through his ear and out his cheek, missing his brain.
Police say Charles Richard Jennings Jr., 35, walked into Mass hand-in-hand with his wife, Evans’ daughter, just before noon Sunday at Saint James the Just Catholic Church in Ogden. Authorities said Jennings went straight up to Evans and shot him in the head. He and his wife, Tara Evans, were standing right before communion.
“He turned his head just at the right time,” said Tara Evans on Monday, crying.
If her husband hadn’t turned, the bullet would have hit the back of his head and killed him, Tara Evans said.
Jennings, known to most as “Ricky,” and his wife, Cheryl Jennings, had a history of domestic disputes, said Ogden Police Lt. Danielle Croyle. Those problems appear to have spilled over into the extended family, she said, though she stopped short of stating a motive. They suspect Jennings may have been using drugs or alcohol at the time of the shooting, she said.
Jennings had previously made threats, said the Rev. Erik Richtsteig, speaking on behalf of the family, but he declined to go into details. Croyle said they don’t yet know the full scope of the relationship between Jennings and his father-in-law.
There were about 300 people in Mass when the shot was fired, including dozens of children. When they heard the gunshot, parishioners hit the floor, said Richtsteig, who himself ducked behind the altar.
“They were a mess — they were worshipping God and this man came in and did an act of violence,” Richtsteig said.
After the initial shock, many parishioners came to the aid of Evans, putting pressure on the wound and keeping his airway clear, Richtsteig said. Others ran after Jennings, who fled the church.