Drunken man fired through wall, murdering 7-year-old girl, charges say

A Heber City man was charged Tuesday with murder and accused of firing a bullet through an apartment wall while intoxicated. That bullet struck and killed a 7-year-old neighbor girl.

A Heber City man was charged Tuesday with murder and accused of firing a bullet through an apartment wall while intoxicated. That bullet struck and killed a 7-year-old neighbor girl. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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HEBER CITY — A man suspected of firing a bullet through a wall that hit and killed a 7-year-old neighbor girl was charged Tuesday with murder, a first-degree felony.

Christopher Robert O'Connell, 34, of Heber City, was originally booked into jail for investigation of manslaughter, but prosecutors decided Tuesday to file a more serious charge of murder against him.

He was also charged in 4th District Court Tuesday with illegal discharge of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a restricted person and drug distribution, all third-degree felonies; sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor; marijuana possession and carrying a dangerous weapon while under the influence, both class B misdemeanors; and intoxication, a class C misdemeanor.

Also Tuesday, Colin David Howells, 36, of Heber City, was charged with obstructing justice, a third-degree felony; sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor; and intoxication, a class C misdemeanor, in the same case.

Police say both men were intoxicated Friday night when a shot was fired inside an apartment at 2790 N. Commons Blvd. that went through a wall and struck 7-year-old Zaydanielys Rodriguez who was laying in bed in another unit. She died a short time later at a local hospital.

As police tried to unravel what happened, they said they learned that both men had gone to the neighboring apartment of Trever Joe Pinter. Two women arrived shortly after and told investigators that they had been sexually assaulted by Howells and O'Connell, according to police booking affidavits.

"The women also stated they observed Christopher pull a firearm out and wave it around while intoxicated, they asked him to put it away," an affidavit states. One woman told police the two were "incredibly intoxicated."

O'Connell later told police that he had consumed four prescription pills normally used to treat seizures and panic attacks, in addition to alcohol, according to the affidavit.

In a search of the apartments, police found a bullet hole that went through a wall in Howells' bedroom and into a nearby apartment.

Pinter, 21, was arrested Saturday for investigation of obstruction of justice after police say he initially provided them with deceptive information, but was not charged Tuesday.

Zaydanielys' father, Danny Rodriguez, was at work at the time of the incident. His 6-year-old son called him about 10:30 p.m. saying he was woken by a loud noise followed by his sister crying, and that they needed help.

"She was asking for help, she was coughing blood on the floor," said Rodriguez. "I told my boss I needed to leave because my daughter was bleeding from her mouth. That's all I knew."

Rodriguez drove his daughter to Heber Valley Hospital and frantically called 911 along the way.

"(Doctors) did everything they could, but they told me where the bullet hit her, there was nothing they could do," he said.

Rodriguez had moved to Heber City from Puerto Rico with his family less than a year ago.

"I liked it so much — good job opportunities, schools for my kids. I wanted them to learn English," Rodriguez, said of living in Utah. "I thought, 'Wow, it's the perfect place to stay a year or two.'"

Zaydanielys was a student at J.R. Smith Elementary School. She loved dancing, school and playing softball in Utah, according to her father. "She was the best one on the team and she'd try so hard."

As for the three men arrested, "God will take care of that," Rodriguez said.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family transport her body back to Puerto Rico for burial.

Contributing: Garna Mejia, KSL-TV

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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