What started out as a beautiful Father’s Day Mass in Ogden, Utah quickly turned into a church’s worst nightmare. As Charles Richard Jennings, Jr., also referred to as Ricky Jennings, walked through the glass doors with wife Cheryl in hand, no one suspected this parishioner would pull out a gun with the intention of killing his father-in-law, James Evans.
The loud bang echoed through the church walls. The bullet missed his brain and exited through Evans’ cheek.
At the sound of Jennings gunshot, Rebecca Ory Hernandez, who stood just a few feet away from Evans with her 5-year-old son, says she grabbed her son, threw him under the pew and got on top of him.
Laying on the ground surrounded by nearly a dozen members of the congregation, Evans repeatedly said, “I’m OK, I’m OK,” as blood spilled out the side of his mouth.
Jennings took off, stealing a neighbor’s truck and leading police on a highway chase until the truck ran out of gas. Hours later, the 35-year-old gunman was finally captured on foot.
With a congregation of 300 people, St. James Catholic Church continued the Mass, led by Rev. Erik Richtsteig.
“They were a mess,” said Richtsteig on Monday. “They were worshipping God and this man came in and did an act of violence.”
Richtsteig explained his reasoning for continuing the Mass, saying, “Evil will not prevail.”
James Evans is expected to survive the bullet wound, according to doctors at McDee-Day hospital in Ogden. He will undergo reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation in order to swallow and speak again. Dr. Barbara Kerwin, director of the intensive care unit, says Evans was conscious on Monday and responding to others by nodding yes and no and using hand signals to communicate.
In tears during a hospital news conference, the victim’s wife, Tara Evans, said, “He turned his head just at the right time. If he didn’t turn his head, he would have been hit in the back of the head and he would have been dead.”
Ory Hernandez was at a loss of words when her son told her, “I didn’t know there were any bad guys in this town, mommy.”
Jennings, who has been booked on suspicion for aggravated criminal homicide, aggravated robbery and possession of a firearm by a restricted user, will appear by video for arraignment on Tuesday in Ogden, according to Weber County deputy county attorney Dean Saunders.
Enraged that violence entered the doors of St. James Catholic Church, Rebecca Ory Hernandez says, “The bad guy doesn’t get to win this time.”