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LDS Church confirms Calif. shooter was former member


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VISALIA, Calif. -- The brother of the suspect in the fatal shooting of an LDS Church bishop in Central California says the man was a former member who felt wronged by a leader in 1988.

Monday afternoon, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirmed that 47-year-old Kenneth Ward was a member of the Church but resigned his membership in 2004.

Mike Ward also told the Visalia Times-Delta newspaper on Monday that his older brother also was mentally ill.

Kenneth Ward is accused of fatally shooting Bishop Clay Sannar, 40, inside an LDS Church building Sunday. He was killed in a shootout with police.

Mike Ward told the paper his brother did not know Sannar.

Church members gathered outside their Visalia meetinghouse Sunday in shock, mourning the loss of their bishop.

Clay Sannar (Courtesy: Deseret News)
Clay Sannar (Courtesy: Deseret News)

Church leader Ralph Jordan said, "We are sure going to miss Bishop Sannar. We pray for his family, and we extend our hearts and hands to them as well as those who know them."

Witnesses said Kenneth Ward walked into the LDS Church building visibly upset about something and asked to speak to a church leader Sunday afternoon.

"He didn't come in asking for Clay Sannar or reference the name at all," Jordan said. "Instead, he may have been asking for the president, the bishop or the leader."

Police said after a brief conversation between the victim and gunman, Kenneth Ward shot Sannar twice -- once in the foot and once in the face.

Kenneth Ward then fled but called police about 15 minutes later to tell them his location and that he was the shooter. When police found him less than 2 miles from the church, he opened fire on them.

Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas said, "Our officers were taking fire at the time. They returned fire in fear of their lives."

Rebecca Fierro lives nearby. She was with one of her children when the shooting began.

"When I came to the front window I saw all these police cars, so I ran to the bathroom and got my husband to get my other child and to go to the back room because they were just shooting back and forth, it sounded like a minute. Then it just stopped," she said.

Police said during the gunfire Kenneth Ward was hit several times. He was taken to a local hospital where he died.

Kenneth Ward is from the Modesto, Calif., area, and at one time had family living in the Visalia area. Mike Ward says Kenneth believed he had been "shunned to hell" by a bishop in 1988 and that is why he asked for a bishop at the LDS Church in Visalia.

Mike Ward told the Visalia-Times Delta that their family is sorry for what happened.

Sannar was the general manager of Soil Basics, a fertilizer company in Visalia. He leaves behind his wife and six children, with the youngest less than 6 months old.

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Story compiled with information from Shara Park and The Associated Press.

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