Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mormon Bishop Gunned Down in California

Associated Press/via Deseret News
Before I start, let me admit my biases. I served part of my full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in California. Although I never entered the Fresno area (I was called to serve in the San Fernando Mission for eight months), this next story still hit home because of my connection to that beloved state.

Clay Sannar, bishop of the Visalia 2nd Ward in Visalia, Calif., was shot by an unknown gunmen while he was attending to administrative duties following services in his ward, or congregation. According to witnesses, the gunman entered the building asking to speak with "the president or bishop," and Sannar stepped out of his office to talk with the man, who brazenly pulled out a gun and shot the 40 year old who held the calling for less than a year.

Sannar leaves behind a wife and six children, the youngest of which was less than six months old and had been blessed in the church's sacrament meeting the week before. Police haven't released the shooter's name (although it has been confirmed that it is not Zane Thomas, as early reports speculated), but did confirm the death of a gunman less than a mile from the building who allegedly confessed to the killing shortly after the slaying.

The community was stunned, and word quickly traveled through the church via new media and social networking sites. As friends and relatives heard the news, I noticed an overwhelming outpouring of support for the family, and a fundraiser has even been started in the young widow Sannar's name. (Click the link to make a donation that will be paid entirely to the family).

Funeral arrangements haven't been announced, but the shock of the crime is still sinking in. How could a man assault someone else on the holiest day of worship in all Christianity, in his home church? This story reeks of religious intolerance. Even moreso, Sannar appears to be an active conservative, having donated $1,500 to support Proposition 8 last year after the church's announcement in support of the California constitutional amendment regarding gay marriage.

It's unknown if the motive behind the slaying was politically oriented. But for the sake of the gunman, let's hope it wasn't. The last thing this story needs is a senseless accusation at the Anti-Prop. 8/Gay Rights activists. If this gunman was a Prop. 8 denouncer trying to "get back" at one of many churches that supported the law, it will only enable more hatred, more violence, and more bickering on both sides of the debate. That's not healthy for anyone, and the results should lead to Mormons and non-Mormons alike hoping that this tragic event can be put behind us, rather than raise further political issues.

Whatever the reason for this senseless act of violence, I hope we can all rally around this young widow and her congregation as they try to pick up the pieces following this reaction. My heart goes out to them, and I truly hope they can find the courage and strength to not just rebuild, but forgive. Actions like these are unacceptable, whether motivated by politics, religion, or merely happenstance. To Sister Sannar, I think I speak for many LDS church members around the world when I say: we support you. And the death of this good man will be felt by thousands, maybe even millions, around the world.

UPDATE 8/30/2010: I normally don't update past posts, but this one has very critical information.
Police released the name of the shooting suspect at 8 a.m. The shooter is alleged to be Kenneth Ward of Modesto, Calif. No motive has been determined, but a man claiming to be Ward's brother said his sibling had a history of mental illness and believed the LDS church was "out to get him."

Ward's brother also told the Visalia newspaper that Ward was a member of the church, but allegedly attending in the 1980s. He felt wronged by "a bishop," but not Bishop Sannar, on whom he took out his anger.

In light of the new evidence, I rescind my potential theory regarding Prop. 8. I'm truly glad that this shooting was not politically motivated, as it would have created a divide between Mormons and non-Mormons in California that may have become unsurmountable. As a former missionary in that great state, the damages would have directly impacted me and my relationship with numerous Californians. I am truly sorry for this loss, and my love goes out to all those directly touched by this tragedy.


In regards to this breaking news, I think it's best that we revisit a video from the church's Mormon Messages YouTube channel a number of weeks ago. It's the heart-wrenching story of a Utah man who lost his wife and children to a drunk driver some months ago, and his inspiring story of forgiveness and love.

May we all remember the loved ones who have fallen, that we might not make the same mistakes of the past.


  1. Shame on you. Without even a shred of evidence, you raise the spector of Proposition 8 as a possible motive for the shooting. While the death of Clay Sannar is clearly a tragedy, the fact remains that this is not tied to Proposition 8.

    It appears that you and a number of oother Mormons have been surprised at all of the negative publicity that the LDS Church has received because of its strong support of Proposition 8. It was absolutely the right of the LDS (Mormon) Church to step into the public square and become actively involved in getting Proposition 8 passed; however, once the LDS Church stepped into the public square, the LDS Church should not have been surprised when it received substantial negative publicity for its actions.

  2. Watch,

    You seem to be mistaken. There is a shred of evidence that Prop. 8 was a POSSIBLE motive of the shooting. The evidence includes the crime itself, the fact that it was committed in Tulare county where the proposition was hotly debated and the fact that the gunman was likely targeting a church official, not a specific individual (as suggested by his remarks upon entering the chapel). How does this qualify as not a shred of evidence?

    The poster never asserts his speculation as fact, simply as possible.

    On the contrary, you seem to rule out the possibility of the proposition's involvement. What evidence do you possess that leads you to believe this?

  3. I think watch just wanted to say "shame on you" - the words matter more than the facts.