SALT LAKE CITY — As the emblems of the sacrament were being passed during the Fallon Third Ward’s sacrament 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 members of his LDS congregation who had arrived late for the meeting.
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 the man who for years had been assigned by ward leaders to serve him and watch over him, witnesses said.
The victim was in his early 60s. Police have not released his name pending notification of the family.
The man died in a 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,” said Rich Hutchings, another ward member.
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 John 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 life-threatening.
Witnesses 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, police and witnesses said.
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 are gathering information, preparing a search warrant for O’Connor’s residence 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.”
Miller had been assigned as O’Connor’s home teacher for years. Priesthood leaders assign home teachers to serve, help and watch over families in the ward. The church recently re-organized this effort and renamed it ministering.