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2013 Saint James the Just Church Shooting

Lesson Learned from a Church Shooting

man holding a gun in a church

An article based on the Safety Member Certification training modules "Safety Team Fundamentals", "Deescalating Disruptive Persons," and "Active Shooter Response," as well as the "Threat Assessment" section in the Church Security Guide article "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation."[1][2][3]

From the Bible

* Assaulting a parent called for the severest penalty:
And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death (Exodus 21:15).

* If the victim does not die, then it is an attempted murder:
And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer ... (Numbers 35:17).


Several contributing factors may lead to a shooting incident. In this case, the assailant had a criminal history, including violence, alcohol and drug use, and domestic abuse.

Videocast and Show Notes

This church shooting incident is discussed by Kris Moloney in a Sheepdog Church Security Academy videocast – the audio is on a Church Security Roll Call podcast. The emphasis is on the lesson(s) learned from this shooting.[2][3]

Beneath the video screen is the link to a summary of this article (the Church Shooting Lessons Learned Download). The download for this article is available for a only limited time.

Ambushed in the Pew

It was June 16, 2013. At the Saint James the Just Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah, the Father's Day Mass was being held. Late in the service, not long before the Communion, a man in his mid-thirties walked in with his wife. The priest saw them enter and thought it strange that they would enter at this point in the mass. The man had been to mass only a few times.

They walked over to behind her father, who was sitting on a back pew. The wife gasped as her husband pulled out a handgun and aimed it at her father's head. He began to turn his head as the trigger was pulled. The bullet went through his right ear and out the cheek, missing the brain. The gun then pointed toward his mother-in-law, but the move was interrupted.

The sound of the blast startled the 300 persons in attendance. Parents pushed their children under the pews. Older siblings did this with the younger ones. Parents held rosaries and prayed for whoever was shot, for their families' safety, and to keep their children calm.

Two of the fathers, a U.S Marine and a USAF Airman, dashed toward the shooter: the Marine up the aisle and the Airman over the pews. The shooter thought, "The whole crowd's a-comin' after me!" He turned and fled, while his weeping wife knelt down by her wounded father.

The two servicemen chased the shooter out of the church and to a nearby house. There the shooter barged in as the owner came out of the shower. Brandishing the gun, he demanded and got the keys to a pickup truck.

Exiting the house, the assailant jumped into the truck and drove off. He headed north, intending to go to Idaho. On Interstate 84 the truck ran out of fuel north of Brigham City. The shooter continued on foot but didn't get too far. On Monday he was spotted and arrested.

A Life of Trouble

The shooter had a long criminal record. Since 1996, when he turned 18, he had been charged with several felonies. Among the charges were burglary, receiving stolen property, criminal trespass, attempted witness tampering, and theft. He pled guilty to some charges and no contest to others.

His history includes drug and alcohol use. In a 2017 parole hearing, he said that before the shooting he had been staying awake on methamphetamine for seven days at a time.

Mental illness was considered an issue in the shooting. The shooter claimed to be "hearing voices." The prosecutor for his trial claimed that it was the result of drug use. Studies have shown that certain drugs, including marijuana and PCP, can cause mental illness.

We don't know how he met his wife, but there was domestic abuse and strained relationships with her family. The abuse included threats to kill her parents if she left him. The parents knew of the threats and bought guns to defend themselves. Although he could not legally have a firearm, somehow he got one. His wife apparently did not know he had a gun when they went to church on Father's Day to be with her father.


The shooter's father-in-law survived and recovered from his wound. The damage to his jaw had to be surgically repaired and he needed speech therapy. For a while he had to communicate by writing. Currently he works as a project manager.

The shooter was charged with attempted murder and felonious assault with a deadly weapon. His bail was originally set at $105M, but was revoked by the judge because this was a failed murder attempt and he might try to "finish the job."

The suspect was psychologically evaluated and found competent to stand trial. He admitted to firing the gun, but said he thought he missed. He pled "guilty but mentally ill." His hope was to spend his time in a mental institution instead of a prison. He was found guilty and sentenced to four years to life, the longest term for attempted murder, with the recommendation for life. The reason was that, considering his mental state, drug use, and record, he would always be a threat to society.

According to the Utah Department of Corrections, the shooter is still an inmate in a Utah State Correctional Facility. The release date is listed as N/A (not available or non-applicable), which is in accordance with the sentence and the judicial recommendation.

A parole hearing was held after four years of the sentence had been served. The father-in-law testified that he did not know his son-in-law had entered, and when he heard the "explosion" he did not realize he'd been shot, a reaction not too uncommon for gunshot victims.

The convict said he did not hear voices any more since he'd been off drugs while in prison. The parole board denied parole and determined that the next parole hearing would not be until 2038, another 21 years. At issue was whether he considered the trauma inflicted on others. Another reason for extending the time is that so many inmates with a drug history return to using drugs after being released.

The Saint James the Just congregation healed from the shock. Soon there was a mass of cleansing from the crime. The congregants were thankful that the victim recovered from his wound. Six years later the priest/pastor said that forgiveness was still a struggle. The parish is still strong and the church well attended and active in the community. The priest is now pastor of a parish in Salt Lake City.

Security details at the church are kept confidential, but awareness has increased. The priest said he now takes note when someone enters late in the service, wondering why. Roman Catholic churches in this country are now training greeters and ushers in security and safety. If they had been on watch in 2013, they might have paid special attention to two latecomers that Father's Day.

Lesson Learned: Consider All Threats

As was noted, the church in Ogden, Utah, was taken by surprise at a Father's Day shooting. They have now learned a lesson. While we need to be aware of suspicious activity – especially violation of norms – we should also have an informed awareness.

In this case, there was known tension between two members of the parish and their son-in-law. The couple was aware of spoken threats against their lives and armed themselves for defense (though they were not armed at church).

The lesson learned from this incident is: Consider all threats to church members and respond appropriately. Here's the outline:

  1. Be open to shared threats. – Church members and other attenders need to feel free to share any threats they receive with the pastor(s) and/or the Church Safety Director. They need to know they'll be taken seriously. Also keep open lines of communication through which threats to the church or its members may be shared.
  2. Be aware of situations which may generate threats. – Some situations within the congregation and the families of members may lead to threats. Of special concern is domestic violence.
  3. Assess all threats you receive or of which you are informed. – Threat assessment analyzes threats for their seriousness and likelihood. What can the church do to help the situation? How can we protect the church and those threatened?
  4. Get needed help. – Depending on the threat, law enforcement may need to be involved.
  5. Ensure Reliable Communication. – Be sure that lines of communication are reliable. This is critical for any emergency, including a likely shooter. These lines are between Safety Team members (2-way radios), between the team and key church personnel (ushers, greeters, platform leaders, church leadership, etc.), and with emergency services (law enforcement, fire department, EMTs).
  6. Guard the gate. – With a threat there are persons at risk of being targets, and there is a person (or persons) of concern who may carry out the threat.
    1. Lock all doors. The main entry may be held open, but already be locked for when it is closed.
    2. Advise greeters and Safety Team members working at the entry to watch for a person of concern. If you have a photo, show it to them.
    3. Place persons trained to respond at the door.
    4. Always watch the door. Also, monitor security cameras.
  7. Guard persons at risk. – If the threat is imminent, have team members shadow persons at risk.
    1. Seat persons at risk in a different location from where they usually sit.
    2. Be ready to move them to safety.
    3. Be ready to stand between them and the threat.
  8. Be aware of anything unusual or out of place.
    1. Some persons of concern will try to come in unnoticed. In this incident, he came in late.
    2. Observe posture, stride, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other indications of mood or state of mind.
    3. Pay attention to indications of substance abuse. The Instructor's Guide for "Security Team Fundamentals" says, "Church members (or their family members) can and do show up at church under the influence of legal or illegal substances and present behavior that is disruptive or threatening to others."[4]
    4. Watch for violations of norms in the person's behavior.
    5. Look for signs of weapons.
  9. Be ready to respond.


When you are aware of any threat made to the church or persons in it, take it seriously. People in the church should be confident that they can share any threat with you.

Training Notes

Church Safety Team members need to be trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program.[1] Responding to an active shooter does require training in the module (class) "Active Shooter Response" along with practice and drills. However, there are steps to avoid a violent attack in the classes "Safety Team Fundamentals" and "Deescalating Disruptive Persons."

Three training formats are available: church-hosted classes (Team Certification), self-paced online instruction (Individual Certification), and live Zoom cases (Online Events).

We are in the last quarter of Online Events, but since the registration is for a year it can be resumed when the 2023-2024 school year starts in September. On the other hand, those who enroll now may complete the program using Individual Certification or Team Certification. Ask about pricing.

Color coding:

Related to Article







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 15

Mar 12

May 21

Storms and Disasters


Nov 6

Jan 22

Mar 19

Jun 4

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Preview and review training using the Church Security Guide[5] with its nine articles:

Up Next

The next article is "Nooks and Crannies" (Patrolling Inside).


Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [/church-security-guide].
  3. Kris Moloney, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, 2019 [/verbal-de-escalation].
  4. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy, YouTube [].
  5. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, SoundCloud [].
  6. Kris Moloney, "Instructor's Guide" for "Security Team Fundamentals," page 18-19, Safety Team Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2019.

News Stories, Etc.

  1. Andrew Rafferty, "Man shot in Utah church while attending Mass," NBC News, June 16, 2013 [].
  2. Caroline Connolly, "Victim in Ogden church shooting identified; suspect in custody," Fox13, June 16, 2013 [].
  3. Anon, "Utah church shooting victim identified," UPI, June 17, 2013 [].
  4. Brady McCombs (Associated Press), "Utah church shooting during Father's Day mass," Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 2013 [].
  5. Janelle Stecklein and Michael McFall, "Man arrested in shooting of father-in-law inside Ogden church," The Salt Lake Tribune, June 17, 2013 [].
  6. By Crimesider Staff, "Utah Church Shooting: Charles Richard Jennings shoots father-in-law during Mass, police say," CBS News, June 17, 2013 [].
  7. Anon, "Utah Church Shooting: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,", June 17, 2013 [].
  8. Haley Smith, "911 call of Ogden church shooting released," KSL, June 19, 2013 [].
  9. Marie Mischel, "Man shot at church recovering; priest calls Massgoers' actions 'heroic'," National Catholic Reporter, June 19, 2013 [].
  10. Anon, "Man accused in church shooting felt 'disrespected'," AP News. July 22, 2013 [].
  11. Jessica Miller, "'Throw away the key,' wife of Utah shooting victim tells judge: Her son-in-law, who shot her husband at church, gets prison," The Salt Lake Tribune, February 21, 2014 [].
  12. By Associated Press, "Utah church shooter gets 4 years to life in prison," San Diego Union-Tribune, February. 20, 2014 [].
  13. Tom Christensen, "A Congregation Heals: St. James priest talks about Father's Day shooting," Standard-Examiner, December 14, 2013 [].
  14. Marie Mischel, "Two commended for actions during 2013 shooting at Saint James the Just Catholic Church in Ogden," Intermountain Catholic, December 19, 2014 [].
  15. Marie Mischel, "St. James the Just Parish celebrates 50 years," Intermountain Catholic, August 26, 2016 [].
  16. Marcos Ortiz, "Ogden church shooter wants out of prison," ABC4, March 24, 2017, Updated: March 25, 2017 [].
  17. "Locate Inmate," Utah Department of Corrections [].