A 65-year-old Utah man who was shot during a Father’s day mass by his son-in-law is recovering from a bullet wound that narrowly missed his brain. The victim, James Evans, was attending mass at Saint James the Just Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah, at around noon on Sunday when his son-in-law, Charles Richard Jennings Jr., 35, entered through the back of the building with his wife and shot him in the back of the head.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Evans’ pastor, Rev. Erik Richsteig, said that Jennings had made threats against Evans in the past. "There had been threats," Richsteig told reporters on behalf of the Evans family. But he added, "The focus now needs to be on Jim ... on people who are hurt."
Jennings fled the scene in a stolen pickup trick before being captured by police, walking alongside the Interstate 84. Lt. Danielle Croyle of the Ogden Police Department said that police were planning to administer blood tests to uncover whether Jennings had been drunk or under the influence of drugs during the shooting.
Although police say they don’t know what Jennings’ motive for the shooting was, they confirmed that Jennings has been involved in domestic disputes with his daughter and has reportedly been abusive toward her. "We don't know the motive,” Croyle said. "It is a domestic violence-related incident."
According to Tara Evans, her husband’s survival may owe to the fact that he turned his head slightly just before Jennings fired the shot. Consequently, the bullet that struck Evans entered the side of his head near his ear and exited through his cheek, not incurring any brain damage.
"He turned his head at the right time," Tara Evans told reporters at a news conference at McDay-Dee Hospital. "If he didn't turn his head, he would have been hit in the back of the head and he would have been dead."
Dr. Barbara Kerwin, the director of the intensive care unit at the hospital, said that Evans was in critical condition as of Monday but was expected to survive pending reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation. Kerwin said that Evans was able to communicate by writing and using hand signals but would need to relearn how to swallow and speak, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
Parishioners who witnessed the grisly crime unfold during the Sunday services described the events as extremely jarring. “It was very peaceful up to that point. Very quiet,” Rebecca Ory Hernandez told the Ogden Standard-Examiner. “We stood up to say a prayer and then there was the loudest noise. The sound ... the sound. My ears are still hurting. It was so loud.”
"The guy walked up to his father-in-law and shot him point blank in the head," Hernandez said. "Then I ran over to the victim and pulled my scarf off and put it around his head. I was talking to him and just telling him to breathe and that everything was going to be OK. He was warm and his heart rate felt normal. He was pretty calm but there was so much blood.”
Hernandez said that she had asked other parishioners for extra cloth to help prop up Evans’ head and a man took off his T-shirt and gave it to her.
"Jim is one of the kindest people I have ever known," Richtsteig said. "No one deserves this, but I can't think of a person who would deserve it less than Jim."
Jennings, whose criminal history includes felonies and a misdemeanor for theft and drug possession, is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday. He was arrested on charges of attempted aggravated criminal homicide, aggravated robbery and possession of a firearm by a restricted user.