clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

LDS shooting witness: 'People were screaming and hitting the ground'

Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fallon, Nevada where a fatal shooting occurred on Sunday, July 22, 2018.
Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fallon, Nevada where a fatal shooting occurred on Sunday, July 22, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — As the emblems of the sacrament were being passed during the Fallon 3rd Ward’s church meeting early Sunday afternoon 60 miles east of Reno, Nevada, John Kelly O’Connor sat on a couch in the west foyer just outside the chapel with a few other members of his LDS congregation.

When the sacrament service was complete and as the meeting’s first speaker began to talk, O’Connor, 48, stood up, walked through the chapel’s west door, drew a handgun and at point-blank range shot and killed Bert Miller, 61, a man he had known for years, witnesses and police said.

"I don’t know why you’d ever want to shoot Bert Miller. He’s the nicest guy in the world," said Rich Hutchings, a ward member. "It’s absolutely shocking."

Google Maps

Miller died in an apparent hail of bullets. Witnesses reported hearing four to eight shots from a powerful handgun.

"Pandemonium broke out," ward member Steve White said. "People were screaming and hitting the ground."

"It was very loud," Hutchings said.

White said he heard four to five shots. Hutchings said he didn't count, but thought it might have been more.

Both men were on the east side of the chapel when the shooting began. White said he looked up and saw a man in a dark blue shirt leave through the chapel doors on the west side of the building. He remembered greeting O'Connor in the hallway before the meeting and that O'Connor had been wearing a dark blue shirt.

One bullet struck another man, who was visiting the congregation from out of state. The bullet struck him in the leg. Police said the injury is not considered to be life-threatening.

Witnesses and police said O’Connor pointed the gun at another ward member who confronted him, then walked back through the chapel door, out of the Fallon South Stake Center, 750 W. Richards St., and to his home a block away, 901 McKay Court.

Fallon police and Churchill County sheriff’s deputies quickly surrounded O’Connor’s home. A hostage negotiator reached O’Connor by phone, and he agreed to surrender to officers.

Fallon Police Chief Kevin Gehman said it is too soon to determine a motive, but it appeared O’Connor was targeting the deceased victim, not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or his congregation in general.

Gehman said Fallon police were gathering information, preparing a search warrant for O’Connor’s residence Sunday and conducting witness interviews.

The sacrament meeting began at 12:30 p.m. Police said they received a 911 call at 12:58 p.m. One witness said police asked ward members to stay after church until after 4 p.m., collecting written statements and conducting witness interviews.

An LDS Church spokesman issued a statement Sunday afternoon.

"We have recently learned of a shooting in Fallon, Nevada, during a church service," Eric Hawkins said. "Details are still developing, and inquiries should be directed to local law enforcement personnel.

"We express our love to those in this congregation and our prayers for the victims and their families. Local leaders are ministering to them at this time."

"It's traumatic," Hutchings said. "I feel so bad for the Miller family. Bert's been 100 percent active all his life and a good servant, and he's never done anything wrong in his life. It's just shocking today could turn into something like this."

Two church members said O’Connor had attended ward meetings sporadically over the past year.

LDS Church policy prohibits guns in church meetings.

"Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world," according to Handbook 2, a manual for church leaders. "The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate except as required by officers of the law."

After the shooting, another member of the ward confronted O’Connor, who pointed the gun at him and said, "This isn’t about you," Hutchings said.

Police moved the congregation into the cultural hall and sealed off the chapel, according to White.

A man with O'Connor's same name and address ran as a Libertarian for the District 38 seat in the state assembly in 2014, losing the general election.

His campaign website stated, "As your Assemblyman, I will support a joint resolution to amend the Nevada Constitution to impose term limits on those who have managed to avoid them," according to Ballotpedia. He also said he would encourage the state assembly to pass legislation prohibiting the taxation of intrastate firearms, ammunition, parts and accessories produced and purchased in Nevada.

In 2010, O'Connor lost as the Democratic Party's candidate for District 35.