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1999 Temple Grounds Church Shooting

Lesson Learned from a Church Shooting

Man holding a gun in a church

An article based on the Safety Member Certification training module “Active Shooter Response”[1]

From the Bible

As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death (Proverbs 26:18).

* David pretended to be insane, because he knew the Philistines were afraid of armed madmen:
“Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:15).

* Insanity is a product of fallen human nature:
This is an evil ... the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead (Ecclesiastes 9:3).


A conversation about church shootings should include not only those in church buildings and schools, but also those in other facilities that are operated by the church. The incident covered in this article happened in a library which served as an integral part of the parent church's ministry. Such an entity should receive the same security considerations as the church's places of worship and education. Not only that, the lesson learned from this shooting should be applied in our churches.

Videocast and Lessons Learned Download

The church shooting in this article is covered by Kris Moloney in a videocast on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy (the audio is in a Church Security Roll Call podcast on Sound Cloud).[2][3]

Beneath the video window is a link to the Church Shooting Lesson Learned Download. This PDF (an article summary) can be printed or attached to email messages to share for discussion, teaching, and persuasion. The link for this lesson will be active for about a month, until the next Lesson Learned article and videocast is posted.

Madness in the Library

It was 10:30 Thursday morning, April 15, 1999, at the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Family History Library on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since many had come from afar to attend an international genealogical convention this week, the library was full of people researching their relatives, and some adding new records.

An older man carrying an umbrella came in. He walked up to the front desk, pulled a .22 pistol out from the umbrella, and shot the library receptionist in the head. Following this, he fired wildly, wounding five more. Two of the six wounded died. One was a security guard. News stories did not reveal whether the guards were armed, but church security personnel were probably unarmed in 1999.

About thirty people on the second floor locked themselves in a room when they heard gunfire. This was before lockdowns were commonly recommended for active killer situations. Responding police did not expect to find a lockdown, so they thought another shooter was active.

The bomb squad was called in to search the yellow truck the shooter drove, and they also searched the library for any hidden bombs. As a result, the nearby denominational office building was evacuated, as well as the Triad Center where KSL studios are located. Ironically, there had recently been another shooting at KSL by a different suspect.

The total time of gunfire lasted for about an hour and 45 minutes. Responding police had the shooter cornered, but he neither surrendered nor committed suicide. Instead, he threatened the officers from cover. They held their fire to avoid injuring innocent persons until the shooter popped out from around a corner and fired at them. Simultaneously, one officer who had kept hi gun pointed at the corner shot and neutralized him. The shooter was the seventh wounded person and the third fatality.

Fighting the War Again

The 70-year-old killer and his wife had migrated to the United States from Russia not long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union when he was 13. What he saw, heard, and experienced, like PTSD, left a lifelong imprint.

In 1999, they were living in an apartment in Salt Lake City. No news articles mention their religious affiliation, but we do know that he was a schizophrenic under a doctor's care. Sometime before the shooting, he had gone off his medication and refused to take it anymore, a replication of several other tragedies. His son tried to get him committed, but under Utah law at that time, involuntary commitment of the mentally ill was not likely.

The shooter was paranoid. He saw Nazi spies almost everywhere. Many times he would give someone a Nazi salute with a "Heil Hitler!" In context, this appears to have been mocking the other person as a Nazi spy. The gesture seems to reflect a memory of Nazi occupiers insisting on a show of loyalty by citizens of occupied territories.

The genealogical convention that week brought crowds into Salt Lake City. To the man's schizophrenic paranoid mind, this may have been seen as an invasion by Nazis. He had a gun, so he was going to resist. That mindset could easily translate city police officers into enemy soldiers.

The killer also had a police record in Salt Lake City. Years before, in a store, he had gotten into an altercation with another shopper. At this time, he had the .22 in his pocket, but was not charged with it. In another incident, he poked the tip of his umbrella into the spokes of a bicycle while someone was riding it.

Also near Temple Square are the offices and studios of KSL, a church-owned broadcasting station. The suspect stopped there earlier that morning to ask directions to the library. He expressed anger with the LDS church and also he said he wanted to be on the news. Who knows why the genealogical library, unless he thought it held Nazi dossiers on local residents, including him.

What Followed

The death toll of the shooting was three, including the shooter. Four others were also taken to the hospital with wounds, some critical. Over a dozen others suffered injuries from hastily getting out of the way or diving under tables.

The Utah legislature has repeatedly struggled with the issue of involuntary commitment of severely mentally ill persons. At issue has been whether someone severely mentally ill, especially if it has already resulted in some level of violence, could be committed for refusing to take prescribed psychiatric medications. Incidents like this one drive the debate.

As to safety and security measures at the Family History Library, they are not publicly available. We do know from the news stories that it had guards, but there was no mention of whether the guards were armed, how they were trained, or about current training and arming.

However, FamilySearch has an available document on security: "How do we keep our FamilySearch center safe and secure?" This is a guide for each FamilySearch Center (FCS) operated by a local stake or ward. There is no mention of special safety & security training for FCS staff and/or volunteers.

Lesson Learned

First, let's acknowledge what was right. For one thing, persons on the second floor executed a lockdown when they knew there was shooting. Also, there were guards on duty, and they tried to get people out of the way when shooting began. However, they did not spot the shooter until he started firing.

The lesson: Be alert to unusual behavior and violations of social norms. This was discussed by Kris Moloney and Simon Osamoh in their interview (see the videocast here). There were a few things about the shooter which should have aroused suspicion:

  1. The suspect expressed his anger as well as a desire to be on the news to the receptionist at KSL when he asked for directions to the Family History Library. That should have not only been suspicious, but should have raised concern for the library as a target.

With the church having so many entities within a few blocks, greeters, doorkeepers, and receptionists at those entities should be trained to warn the others of suspicious persons, objects, and activities.

  1. The umbrella should have seemed out of place that day. According to the weather history for Salt Lake City, April 15, 1999 was in the middle of a long rainless spell (see image). Maybe they would take notice now since it is known an umbrella can hide a pistol.

If suspicious and untimely behavior is noticed, a safety team member can greet the person(s) and engage them in conversation while evaluating them and what they are carrying (like the umbrella with no rain). Perhaps the guard can disarm them if there is a weapon.

Training Notes

Each Church Safety Team is encouraged to have all its members trained and certified as safety members. This can be done through the Safety Member Certification program. "Active Shooter Response v4" is the second of eight training modules. Three training formats are available: Team Certification (church-hosted classes), Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction), and Online Events (live Zoon classes for both individuals and teams).

The 2022-2023 Online Events school year began on September 11. The next class (Basic Use of Force Laws) is on October 9. The second quarter begins November 13. Classes already finished are highlighted in Blue.





Training Module


Sep 11

Nov 13

Jan 29

Mar 26

Safety Team Fundamentals


Sep 18

Nov 20

Feb 5

Apr 2

Active Shooter Response


Sep 25

Dec 4

Feb 12

Apr 16

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Oct 2

Dec 11

Feb 19

Apr 23

Protecting Children from Abuse


Oct 9

Dec 18

Feb 26

Apr 30

Basic Use of Force Laws


Oct 16

Jan 8

Mar 5

May 7

Arson and Fire Safety


Oct 23

Jan 13

Mar 12

May 21

Storms and Disasters


Nov 6

Jan 22

Mar 19

Jun 4

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Another training resource is the Church Security Guide. "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training" is the last of its nine articles.[4][5]


If a person violates social norms or is out of synch with a current situation (such as the weather), pay attention, notify others, and take appropriate measures, just to be safe.

Also This Month

This is the first of five articles for October. The other four are "Do I Smell Smoke?" (In Case of Fire), "The Critical Choice" (To Shoot or Not Shoot), "A Safe Distance" (Isolating Offenders), and "Blue Life Support" (The Cornelius Project).


Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Sheep Security Academy, YouTube [].
  3. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, Sound Cloud [].
  4. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Sheep Security, © 2018 [].
  5. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Security Guide, Sheepdog Sheep Security, © 2019 [].
  6. Kris Moloney with Simon Osamoh, "Kris and Simon Interview," Sheepdog Sheep Security Academy, YouTube, November 11, 2021 [].

News Stories and Online Sources

  1. The Deseret News staff (Associated Press contributed to this report), "LDS library shooting leaves three dead, including suspect," Deseret News, April 15, 1999 [].
  2. Paul Foy, "3 Die in Mormon Library Shooting," The Associated Press, April 15, 1999 [].
  3. Anon, "Shooting at Family History Library," Church News, April 17, 1999 [].
  4. Tracy Connor," Crazed Utah Gunman, 71, Kills 2 in Mormon Library Rampage," New York Post, April 16, 1999 [].
  5. Tom Kenworthy, "Gunman Kills 2, Wounds 4 in Utah Library Rampage," Washington Post, April 16, 1999 [].
  6. James Brooke, "3 Are Killed And 5 Hurt In Shootout In Utah City," The New York Times, April 16, 1999 [].
  7. Amy Joi Bryson, "‘You don't know what is going to be coming around the corner'," Deseret News, September 2, 1999 [].
  8. Anon, "Shooting Incident at Family History Library," News of the Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. June 1999 [].
  9. Anon, "How do we keep our FamilySearch center safe and secure?" Article Id: 1339, Family Search, April 20, 2020 [].
  10. EWW Staff and NOAA, "Salt Lake City Weather in 1999: Historical record of Salt Lake City, Utah weather for the year 1999 based on NOAA data," Extreme Weather Watch [].