A Nevada man walked into a Mormon church during services on Sunday and opened fire, fatally shooting one man and wounding another, police say. John Kelley O’Connor, 48, was later arrested after the shooting at the Church Of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse in Fallon, Nevada, according to police.
O’Connor, of Fallon, was charged with murder and battery with substantial harm, authorities told the Reno Gazette Journal. He is being held on $1 million bail and is scheduled to appear in court later this week. The victim killed in the July 22 shooting has been identified as 61-year-old Charles “Bert” Miller. The other victim, who has not been identified, was shot in the leg and has been released from the hospital after being treated.
Fallon Chief of Police Kevin Gehman told the Gazette Journal that O’Connor, a longtime Fallon resident who has run for state office multiple times, is known to the department and has been arrested by them in the past. Gehman told the newspaper investigators are trying “to piece together the story of yesterday’s tragic event.” Fallon is a city of about 8,600 people in Churchill County, Nevada, about 60 miles east of Reno.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. O’Connor Is a Member of the Church & Had Attended Services Earlier, Came Back, Shot 2 People & Then Walked Back to His House, Police Say
John K. O’Connor is a member of the LDS church where the shooting occurred, Fallon spokeswoman Kaitlin Ritchie told KRNV-TV. He had attended services there prior to the shooting and then returned, Ritchie said. The shooting occurred about 1 p.m. on July 22 at the Mormon church at 750 West Richard Street, KOLO-TV reports. “The emblems of the sacrament were being passed during the Fallon 3rd Ward’s church meeting,” when the shooting happened, the Deseret News reports.
Fallon Police Chief Kevin Gehman told the Nevada Appeal that O’Connor walked into the church with a “midsized-caliber handgun” and began shooting. Charles “Bert” Miller, 61, was shot and killed. Another victim was shot in the leg.
“Pandemonium broke out. People were screaming and hitting the ground,” church member Steve White told the Deseret News. Another member, Rich Hutchings, told the newspaper, “It was very loud.” White said he heard at least five shots, while Hutchings said he possibly heard more.
After the shooting, O’Connor pointed the gun at another church member, police said. Hutchings told the newspaper O’Connor told the person he pointed the gun at, “This isn’t about you.” O’Connor then walked out of the church and went back to his house, which is across the street from the building, according to police. Deputies surrounded the home and O’Connor later surrendered after talking to hostage negotiators, police said.
According to the Deseret News, members of the ward told the newspaper O’Connor had attended church meetings sporadically over the past year. In a statement, a LDS Church spokesman, Eric Hawkins, said, “We have recently learned of a shooting in Fallon, Nevada, during a church service,” Eric Hawkins said. “Details are still developing, and inquiries should be directed to local law enforcement personnel. We express our love to those in this congregation and our prayers for the victims and their families. Local leaders are ministering to them at this time.”
Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford said in a statement, “Our hearts go out to family members of those who have lost someone and those who were in the church today where the tragedy occurred.”
U.S. Senator Dean Heller tweeted, “Deeply saddened by the act of senseless violence in Fallon today at the LDS church. We are in contact with Mayor Tedford and other officials. My family and I are praying for all loved ones, churchgoers, and community members impacted by this tragedy.” Senator Catherine Cortez Masto said in a tweet, “Devastated by the horrific news of the fatal shooting at the LDS church in Fallon. Thank you to the first responders on the scene. My heart goes out to all of those impacted. Places of worship should be a safe haven. The gun violence across this country must end.” Congresswoman Jacky Rosen tweeted, “Saddened by the shooting at the LDS Church in Fallon today. My deepest sympathies are with the victims’ families and the community.”
2. Police Believe O’Connor Was Targeting a Specific Person, Not the Church, but a Motive for the Attack Hasn’t Been Made Public
Police said they believe John O’Connor was targeting specific people, not the church itself. “It’s really too early to understand the motive,” Fallon Police Chief Kevin Gehman told KOLO-TV. There were about 50 people inside the church at the time of the shooting.
“It is too early to understand the motive, but initially, it does not appear to have been directed at the church, but an individual victim,” Kaitlin Ritchie, a Fallon spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Miller was a well known member of the Fallon community who had served as a member of the local volunteer fire department for 35 years, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. He is survived by his wife, three children and “many grandchildren,” officials told the newspaper. “Bert’s fingerprint is all over this town. It’s a great loss not only to his family but to this community,” Gehman told the Gazette Journal.
“I don’t know why you’d ever want to shoot Bert Miller. He’s the nicest guy in the world,” Rich Hutchings, a ward member told the Deseret News. “It’s absolutely shocking. It’s traumatic. I feel so bad for the Miller family. Bert’s been 100 percent active all his life and a good servant, and he’s never done anything wrong in his life. It’s just shocking today could turn into something like this.”
Gehman said when he arrived at the church, he was surprised by the strength of its members. “Just a feeling in the room, but they were all shook up but it was clear they were there for each other,” Gehman told the Nevada Appeal. He told the newspaper that in his 10 years as police chief, there has been nothing like this in Fallon. He said he was not aware of any issues between O’Connor and the church.
3. O’Connor Has Run Unsuccessfully for the Nevada Legislature Several Times as a Republican, Democrat & Libertarian
John O’Connor, a Henderson native who moved to Fallon when he was 5, has run for Nevada state office several times since 2004, according to state records and newspaper archives. During his attempts to earn a seat in the Nevada State Assembly, O’Connor has run as a Republican, a Democrat and, most recently, as a Libertarian. His Facebook profile picture is the libertarian porcupine logo.
O’Connor first ran for office in 2004 as a Republican primary opponent to State Senator Mike McGinness in the Central Nevada (18th) district, according to a report from the Reno Gazette Journal. O’Connor tried to argue that McGinness, then running for his fourth term in office, had violated Nevada’s term limits law, but the State Supreme Court refused to hear his case. After losing that election, O’Connor ran for the Nevada House of Representatives District 35 seat in 2010, as a Democrat, against Republican Peter Goicoechea. He lost that race 12,331 votes to 3,749 votes, according to Ballotpedia.
O’Connor’s most recent run for office was in 2014, when he sought the State Assembly’s District 38 seat as a Libertarian candidate. He earned 8.9 percent of the vote, behind Independent American party candidate Timothy Fasano, who earned 12.2 percent and Republican Robin Titus, who won the seat with 78.9 percent of the vote. Ballotpedia, citing O’Connor’s now-defunct campaign website, said O’Connor wrote about term limits, “As your Assemblyman, I will support a Joint Resolution to amend the Nevada Constitution to impose term limits on those who have managed to avoid them.”
He also said in regards to land rights, “The ultimate and most promising remedy was started by several western states who all share a common interest for securing sovereign dominion and eminent domain over public lands, which the federal government claims to permanently possess. I support the effort of these states to negotiate an agreement with Congress providing for the orderly transfer of public land to the individual western states.”
And about self-defense, “If elected, I will encourage our representatives to pass similar legislation to prohibit taxation of intrastate firearms, ammunition, parts, and accessories produced and purchased within the State of Nevada. This legislation will be modeled on the Model Version of Firearms Freedom Act. If an amendment to the Nevada Constitution based on this model legislation is proposed, I will endorse that amendment and encourage its passage.”
He wrote on the website, “I’m running as a Libertarian because I think the Libertarian Party is the one political party that really does speak for the people. Libertarians are against politically connected businesses and bureaucrats telling people what to do, how to live their lives, how to spend their money, or how to spend their time. Libertarians are live and let live, just like me and just like you. … You, the voters, also demanded a different candidate, one that wasn’t part of the dysfunctional two party system that has served Nevada and its rural counties so poorly over the past few decades. You demanded a live and let live candidate, one that wouldn’t tell you how to live your life, how to spend your money, or how to spend your time. You, the voters, demanded a new voice, a Libertarian voice. With the help of the Libertarian Party of Nevada, I am proud and humbled to be that Libertarian voice and look forward to using it to better serve your interests.”
4. He Has Worked as a Mechanic at Lockheed Martin & Has Past Arrests for Selling Marijuana & Domestic Violence, but No Convictions
John O’Connor, whose middle name has also been spelled John Kelly O’Connor, has worked as a heating and air conditioning mechanic at Lockeed Martin at the Fallon Naval Air Station, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. He was a union steward and vice president of the union while there. He was also a union lobbyist.
According to financial disclosures for his state campaigns, O’Connor receives disability payments. In an interview with the Gazette Journal, O’Connor said if elected, he would support better workers compensation for rural areas. “When the insurance company puts you back to work on light duty and you’ve got a two-hour drive to any kind of therapy, the bill says if you drive further than 20 miles, the employer or the insurance company picks up that lost wage instead of you picking it up or taking a day off of work. It’s almost better to be on full disability.”
He also said, “I feel the state should provide day care for single parents – mothers and fathers – if they’re out there working no matter how much they make.”
Police Chief Kevin Gehman told the Reno Gazette Journal that O’Connor has previously been arrested three times in Fallon, twice for domestic violence, in 1992 and 1995, and once on a drug charge, but he was never convicted of any of those charges. According to the Gazette Journal article, the drug arrest occurred in 2003, when he was accused of selling 11.7 grams of marijuana, to an undercover officer. O’Connor told the newspaper he was the caretaker for his father, who was enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program. He said as a civilian employee at the Fallon Naval Air Station, O’Connor said he was subject to random drug testing.
“I don’t run around the streets and sell marijuana,” O’Connor told the newspaper. “My work is a drug-free place, and they could afford to test me every day. Between that and the parental obligation to my two sons, I don’t use it. … I don’t know if (the arrest) will hurt me or help me. If the Nevada Division of Investigation has that much money to bother us people in the medical marijuana program, maybe they out to take that money and stick it in education.”
5. O’Connor Described Himself as a Single Parent of 2 Sons & Was a Member of a Group Called ‘Families Battling Injustice’ Which Advocates for ‘Equal Parenting’
John O’Connor told the Reno Gazette Journal in 2004 that he was a “single parent of two sons.” O’Connor also told the newspaper that he was a member of a group called “Families Battling Injustice,” which advocated for equal parenting and the rights of parents who lose custody of their children.
In 2001, O’Connor testified before the Nevada Senate against a law that would allow for higher child support payments. According to the minutes of that testimony, “John K. O’Connor, Lobbyist, Families Battling Injustice, said he is speaking on behalf of a local union in Churchill County, and stated the membership is not against all of A.B. 37 and wants what is best for the children. He continued, stating if statistical data indicates a need to raise the cap and if the noncustodial parent is required to report earnings, the custodial parent should have the same obligation. Mr. O’Connor agreed with other speakers in regard to judges who do not exercise discretion in their child support decisions. The other concern Mr. O’Connor expressed was an accountability issue, stating, ‘Everyone wants to pay child support. They want to make sure their children are healthy and safe. But, there are times the money is not going to the children.’ Mr. O’Connor said concerned mothers from Churchill County who wanted to testify accompanied him.”