Man shot during mass at Ogden church expected to survive

Jun 18 2013 - 10:45am

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Karen Evans, center, comforts her mother Tara Evans while Father Eric Richtsteig looks on at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden on Monday, June, 17, 2013. Tara's husband, James Evans, was shot in the head the day before at St. James Catholic Church. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Police are outside St. James Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah, Sunday June 16, 2013 after a man was shot in the back of the head during mass at the church. The suspect, Charles Richard Jennings Jr., 35, was captured Sunday afternoon in nearby Box Elder County after fleeing in a stolen pickup truck, investigators said. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Benjamin Zack)
Crime scene investigators examiner the parking lot outside of St. James Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah, where a man was shot in the back of the head during Sunday Mass on June 16, 2013. Charles Richard Jennings Jr., 35, was arrested Sunday afternoon in nearby Box Elder County after fleeing in a stolen pickup truck, investigators said. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Benjamin Zack)
Tara Evans, left, describes the moment her husband, James, was shot while their daughter, Karen, and Father Eric Richtsteig listen at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden on Monday, June, 17, 2013. Tara explained that James happened to turn his head at just the right moment to avoid fatal damage. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Father Eric Richtsteig describes the shooting of James Evans at St. James Catholic Church during a press conference at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden on Monday, June, 17, 2013. Evans's wife, Tara, and daughter, Karen, listen from the side. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
James Evans, shooting victim (Courtesy photo)
Crime scene investigators examiner the parking lot outside of St. James Catholic Church in Ogden where a man was shot in the back of the head during the 11:30 Sunday Mass on June 16, 2013. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Karen Evans, center, comforts her mother Tara Evans while Father Eric Richtsteig looks on at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden on Monday, June, 17, 2013. Tara's husband, James Evans, was shot in the head the day before at St. James Catholic Church. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Police are outside St. James Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah, Sunday June 16, 2013 after a man was shot in the back of the head during mass at the church. The suspect, Charles Richard Jennings Jr., 35, was captured Sunday afternoon in nearby Box Elder County after fleeing in a stolen pickup truck, investigators said. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Benjamin Zack)
Crime scene investigators examiner the parking lot outside of St. James Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah, where a man was shot in the back of the head during Sunday Mass on June 16, 2013. Charles Richard Jennings Jr., 35, was arrested Sunday afternoon in nearby Box Elder County after fleeing in a stolen pickup truck, investigators said. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Benjamin Zack)
Tara Evans, left, describes the moment her husband, James, was shot while their daughter, Karen, and Father Eric Richtsteig listen at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden on Monday, June, 17, 2013. Tara explained that James happened to turn his head at just the right moment to avoid fatal damage. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Father Eric Richtsteig describes the shooting of James Evans at St. James Catholic Church during a press conference at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden on Monday, June, 17, 2013. Evans's wife, Tara, and daughter, Karen, listen from the side. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
James Evans, shooting victim (Courtesy photo)
Crime scene investigators examiner the parking lot outside of St. James Catholic Church in Ogden where a man was shot in the back of the head during the 11:30 Sunday Mass on June 16, 2013. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- Because James Evans turned his head at just the right moment, the bullet came out through his cheek instead of entering his brain, his wife said.

Tara Evans spoke briefly during a news conference Monday at McKay-Dee Hospital. She nodded and smiled, then cried as Dr. Barbara Kerwin, the hospital intensive care unit medical director, talked about the extent of James Evans' injuries.

Police say James was shot in the head by his son-in-law during a Father's Day Mass on Sunday. He is expected to survive.

"He turned his head at the right time," Tara said, sobbing through her words. "If he hadn't turned his head, he would have been hit in the back of the head and he would've been dead."

Tara, who was not scheduled to speak, clutched the hand of her daughter Karen Evans during the news conference, as others spoke about the events of Sunday. She then thanked the community for their prayers following the shooting at St. James the Just Catholic Church.

"Also I want to thank all the people who are praying for him and us and for all the parishioners," Tara said. "That means the most to us."

Kerwin said the bullet had entered near James Evans' right ear and came out of his cheek. He has an oral tracheostomy and is unable to speak. He is listed in critical condition, but continues to make improvements. He does communicate with others, either by writing or hand gestures.

The bullet did not enter his brain, Kerwin said. James will need more surgeries to reconstruct his face and will need physical therapy.

Family spokesman the Rev. Erik Richtsteig said the 300 parishioners who were attending the service are "rattled," but psychological help will be available to those who need it. He celebrated Mass on Monday.

"We didn't want evil to win," he said.

The church will celebrate a "Liturgy of Reparation of Healing" at 6 p.m. Thursday, he said.

Church officials will not reconsecrate the church, "because when God gives a gift he doesn't take it back," said Richtsteig.

Richtsteig, who has been with the parish for the past 10 years, described James and Tara Evans as "the kindest people I've ever known."

The couple, along with Richtsteig and other church members, had just returned Friday from a trip to Jerusalem.

Richtsteig said the couple are "pillars of the parish, great people. No one deserves this, but I can't think of a person who would deserve this less than Jim."

Richtsteig said James and Tara Evans were sitting in the far back of the church when he saw Charles Richard "Ricky" Jennings Jr. walk into the church with his wife, the Evanses' daughter. Police identified her as Cheryl Jennings.

Then Richtsteig heard the sound of a gun, and after Ricky Jennings left the church, those in the congregation did what they could to help James until emergency medical personnel and police arrived.

Ogden Police Lt. Danielle Croyle said police are continuing their investigation but have given their initial reports to the Weber County Attorney's Office. Formal charges against Ricky Jennings could be filed in 2nd District Court as early as today.

Police at this time are not planning to file any charges against Cheryl Jennings, she said.

The couple has a son, who is 3. He was not with them when the shooting occurred, Croyle said.

Croyle said police suspect Ricky Jennings may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the shooting. He stole a truck and cellphone from a man at gunpoint following the shooting. Police used technology to track the truck, and when it ran out of gas, Brigham City police, Box Elder Sheriff's deputies and Utah Highway Patrol troopers were able to locate the 34-year-old man at 3:40 p.m. Sunday on Highway 84 near Mile Marker 32.

Ricky Jennings was booked in Weber County Jail on one count of attempted homicide, one count of aggravated robbery and one count of possession of a firearm by a restricted person.

Croyle said there has a been history of domestic violence between the couple that has spilled over to extended family members. She said services are available to help victims of domestic violence.

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