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2010 Visalia LDS Church Shooting

Lesson Learned from a Church Shooting

picture of church with two crosses in front

An article based on the Safety Member Certification training module "Active Shooter Response" and the Church Security Guide article "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training."[1][2][3]

From the Bible

Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings (Psalm 140:4).

But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me (Hosea 6:7).

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings (Psalm 17:8).


Persons who are not in their right minds are capable of doing really senseless acts, even in apparent treachery. A perceived wrong or rebuff can build up in the mind of someone mentally ill until it becomes their primary motivation.

Mental illness is one of the two leading factors for deadly-force attacks in places of worship. However, mental illness is not always recognized, especially in its earliest stages. This is true for members of churches, synagogues, and other religious bodies. When it is seen, it is often not dealt with rightly, leading to rebuffs which sometimes lead to tragic consequences.

Going for a Leader

On Sunday, August 29, 2010, a 47-year-old man in Modesto, California, told his family that he was going fishing. He took his grandfather's hand gun and headed for Visalia, 140 miles away.

In Visalia, he entered the Ward 2 LDS meeting house. Inside, he asked to see the leader of the ward, either the bishop or the president. He was told that the bishop was busy at the moment and was asked to wait. He did wait.

When the bishop had finished conducting worship services and interviewing and counseling members, he asked the man to come into his office. There the man pulled out the handgun and fired. The bullet went through the bishop's foot.

The bishop went for the gun. In the struggle, he was dragged into the hallway, where he shouted for others to "Get out!" The assailant fired several shots, at least one into the bishop's face, then left.

Outside the meeting house/chapel, the assailant dialed 9-1-1. He identified himself as the shooter, told them where to find him, then headed to the south part of town where he grew up. When police arrived, the assailant exchanged fire with the officers, who hit him several times. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

A Longtime Grudge

With mental illness, an affront or other perceived wrong does not have to be rational, or even true.

The shooter was a former LDS member. Born in Modesto, he lived with his mother and grandparents in Visalia. Apparently, his parents were divorced. They took him and his siblings to a local LDS church. According to his family, they left the church, and he was excommunicated in the 1980s. In 1988, the assailant said, the bishop had "shunned him to hell," a likely reference to the excommunication.

Shunning is not an official act of the LDS church. Members who have left are understandably barred from certain places (the temples) and rites, but their families and friends are (generally) encouraged to woo them with kindness. However, since family and community are constantly engaged in church functions and practices, a wayward or former member may feel excluded.

The two brothers joined the U.S. Army and served in the Gulf War (1990-91). After their discharge, they settled in Modesto, where their father lived. The assailant rejoined LDS while at Fort Bragg, but left again later.

Sometime after his discharge, at the urging of his family, the shooter re-enlisted. While stationed in Oklahoma, he met and married his wife. They had a son, who was age 6 at the time of the shooting. He left the Army being injured, and they settled in Modesto.

The assailant may have had PTSD, as some have thought, but he was diagnosed as bi-polar. He resented the LDS leadership, blaming his problems on the perceived "shunning." This hatred for LDS bishops and stake presidents kept building up. He was taking medication for the bi-polar condition, but would rant when it wore off. The LDS was blamed for disrupting his family life. He attempted suicide at least once.

He also threatened LDS bishops and a police officer in Modesto, resulting in an arrest in 2004. He pled no contest to a charge of threatening to kill or injure a person and was put on probation. After this, the future assailant took his medications and acted normally, even occasionally attending the church in Modesto.

His mother died in August 2007, almost three years before the shooting. This was an added stress, possibly contributing to the final tragedy.


The killing of an LDS bishop in his ward's office made the news through Mormon communities around the world. Safety became an issue. Like most other places of worship, Mormons value being welcoming and friendly to outsiders. The perception has been that security measures are seen as at odds with being welcoming and friendly. Now the question was raised, "How do we keep members and visitors safe?"

As of 2015, five years later, the bishop's widow and children still attended Visalia 2nd Ward. The church and the bishop's siblings constituted a support group for them. By now, most of the boys are adults.

The killer's family extended their sympathies to Ward 2 and to the bishop's family. They apologized to the church for the actions of their son and brother.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken security and safety seriously. For instance, in a 2019 newsletter, the denomination advised local wards on safety measures, such as contacting law enforcement, situational awareness, keeping calm, watching for signs of a disruptive person, and responding to an active shooter.

Lessons Learned

First, a disclaimer: The purpose of this section is not to criticize the church or the denomination, but to learn from this tragedy so that future lives may be spared.

Lesson 1: Watch for signs of distress

"Security starts at the gate" is a basic concept. Keep threats outside so you don't have to deal with them inside. Someone monitors the entrance, looking for signs of trouble, as in the SDCS article "I Spy." Learn to observe facial expressions and body language, suspicious packages, and odd clothing (which may conceal weapons).[4][5]

According to news reports, including a story in the Deseret News, when the assailant first came to the church, he looked "visibly angry about something." This is where the role of a greeter or safety team member comes into play. If someone at the door noticed the mood of the visitor, they could have kept him occupied while the team leader or safety director was coming. During this time, the door person looks for signs of a weapon. The rule of thumb is that an angry person with a weapon does not get in. As Kris pointed out in a recent video clip, "They don't make it to the sanctuary!"[6]

Lesson 2: Pay attention to threats

Also share known threats with other places of worship.

The assailant in this case had made threats to LDS leaders in his own community. Since this was not simply a personal threat, but one against local LDS leadership in general, it should have been shared with other stakes and wards, especially those where the threat maker had connections. Even though he was better-mannered after going on parole, there was the risk of reversion to the angry state if he stopped taking his medications. We can now look back and see that he would carry out a previous threat by going back to the ward he attended in his youth.

Lesson 3: Learn to recognize and deal with mental illness

Mental illness and domestic violence are the two leading causes of deadly violence in places of worship (mental illness is often the cause of domestic violence). Leaders of local congregations should know how to care for the mentally ill in their faith community. This includes encouraging them and helping them to remember to be current in their therapies, counseling, and treatments. If you need help in this, find professionals to advise you.

Training Resources

The prime Sheepdog Church Security training resource is Safety Member Certification with its eight training modules (classes). The three training formats are church-hosted classes (Team Certification), self-paced online instruction (Individual Certification), and live Zoom classes (Online Events). Certification is good for two years. Re-certification refreshes the learning, updates information, and introduces new information, techniques, methods, and technology.

Online Events Schedule






Training Module


Mar 24

Sep 8

Nov 3

Safety Team Fundamentals


Apr 7

Sep 15

Nov 10

Active Shooter Response


Apr 14

Sep 22

Nov 17

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Apr 21

Sep 29

Nov 24

Protecting Children from Abuse


Apr 28

Oct 6

Dec 15

Basic Use of Force Laws


May 5

Oct 13

Jan 5

Arson and Fire Safety


May 19

Oct 20

Jan 12

Storms and Disasters


Jun 2

Oct 27

Jan 19

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Other training resources are the Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Articles on the Safety Ministry Training site ("News" tab), videocasts on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy, and podcasts on the SoundCloud channel Church Security Roll Call.[2][7][8][9][10]


Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response" and "Safety Team Fundamentals," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  3. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  4. WGV, "I Spy," Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, May 10, 2022 [].
  5. Kris Moloney, "Spot an Assailant: Church Security Roll Call 310," Sheepdog Church Security Academy, May 9, 2022 [].
  6. Kris Moloney, "They don't make it to the sanctuary!" Sheepdog Church Security Academy, February 13, 2024 [].
  7. Sheepdog Articles, Safety Ministry Training [].
  8. Safety Ministry Training, Sheepdog Church Security [].
  9. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel, YouTube [].
  10. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call [].

News Accounts

  1. The Associated Press, "LDS bishop shot and killed at California meetinghouse," KSL, August 29, 2010 [].
  2. Deseret News Staff, "Mormon bishop fatally shot in California chapel; gunman killed," Deseret News, August 30, 2010 [].
  3. Ken Carlson, "Father of Modesto suspect in church shooting searches for answers," The Modesto Bee, Updated August 30, 2010 [].
  4. Shara Park and The Associated Press, "LDS Church confirms Calif. shooter was former member," KSL, August 30, 2010 [].
  5. UPI News sources, "Ex-Mormon shot Calif. bishop, brother says," UPI, August 30, 2010 [].
  6. By The Associated Press, "Man who killed LDS bishop was former member," Daily Herald, August 31, 2010
  7. ABC30 News Staff, "Community grieves following Visalia church shooting," ABC30 Action News, September 1, 2010 [].
  8. Greg Morrison, CNN, "Mormon bishop shot dead in California," CNN, September 1, 2010 [].
  9. Jason Swensen, "Bishop slain in meetinghouse while helping troubled stranger," Church News, Deseret News, September 1, 2010 [].
  10. Cathy Lim, "Family of slain California LDS bishop finds purpose, ways to 'carry on'," November 20, 2015 [].
  11. Contributor 47403919, "Kenneth James Ward (12 Oct 1962–29 Aug 2010)," Find a Grave [].
  12. Mette Ivie Harrison, "Do Mormons Shun?" HuffPost, November 6, 2017 [].
  13. Staff, "Safety in Chapels Is the Responsibility of Every Latter-day Saint," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, October 10, 2019 [].