Update on the Murder of a Mormon Bishop, Clay Sannar, in Visalia, California by Kenneth Ward

Further details are coming in about the murder of a Mormon bishop, Clay Sannar, by an ex-Mormon, Kenneth Ward. Kenneth left the Church after his time in the military, while serving in Operation Desert Storm. He lived in Modesto, but drove to Visalia to the ward where he used to attend church. The murderer apparently suffered from mental illness and when he became irrational, he often brought up religion and his anger for being excommunicated years earlier by another bishop in the ward.

The victim, Bishop Clay Sannar, acted with heroism, according to the TV report below, when the armed assailant came into his office. He tried to stall him while yelling commands to get other people out of the building swiftly, and apparently even sought to protect others after he was shot and dying. The murderer arrived around 12:30 which, according to friends formerly from the Visalia Ward who were in my home last night for dessert, was between the meetings of the Visalia Ward and a single adults ward, so the building was relatively empty–only about 30 people at the time.

Bishop Sannar was in his 40s and had a large family with young children. If you would like to help, my friend Connor Boyack has set up a fund for the Sannar family. Any amount given would be welcome.

Here’s a TV account about the murderer:

As a recovering bishop myself, I know a little about the anger that people can project toward LDS bishops. I know about the difficulties arising in enforcing Church policies that stir anger and hate in others. I also know how well-intended actions can be misinterpreted as evil and hostile. I once had someone unload on me after years of pent-up anger for something I allegedly did to hurt them in a parking lot while I was a bishop. The person soon realized that whatever I did or said, it was not intentional–he never explained what he thought I had done, but fortunately decided to forgive me. I also know how easy it is for bishops to make mistakes and offend others–for some people I was probably especially difficult and I can look back and see some major mistakes in my service (thanks to those who patiently endured me!). In this case, though, the anger had nothing to do with anything Bishop Clay Sannar did other than his role in serving the Lord in that office. The praise for Bishop Sannar suggests that he was a genuinely Christlike man and a terrific bishop seeking to serve the Lord and selflessly serve others, right up to the last few seconds of his life. I even heard him praised by an employee of his company, Soil Basics, for being a terrific boss–this is praise that few bosses in the world earn, so I think that’s significant.

As tragic and horrific as this senseless and hateful killing is, I hope we can forgive and move on, trying our best to serve as Christ would have us serve and not being too distraught by the anger that fills the souls of others, including many who shun violence but still really detest Mormons. The comments and cruel jokes on some news pages on this story remind me that we are terribly misunderstood and loathed by a great many people, sometimes even in the name of advancing alleged causes of tolerance or equality or love. We have a lot of work to do in building more understanding among our neighbors, friends, and even enemies.

For the family of Clay Sannar, the reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of the Resurrection offer great hope, but who can imagine the tragedy that has befallen them and the grief of having a good father slain solely because he was a Mormon bishop by someone who hated the Church?

Donations for the Sannar family can be made at Pledgie.

Click here to lend your support to: Help Bishop Sannar


Author: Jeff Lindsay

13 thoughts on “Update on the Murder of a Mormon Bishop, Clay Sannar, in Visalia, California by Kenneth Ward

  1. We should also keep in mind that the shooter may or may not have been fully mentally accountable. He seems to have been quite disturbed emotionally. Only God knows what was in this man's heart.

    I feel awful for the Bishop's family though. I hope things will return to some semblance of normalcy for their ward and for their family.

  2. Thank you for this excellent article…one of the best I've read. I appreciate the balanced view and the reminder to move on.

    And Syphax brings up a good point — we don't know truly in what state of mind the shooter was in, mental-health wise.

    But I do think it's still a sobering reminder of the powerful force that anger is, mental illness or no mental illness.

  3. According to news articles, the Sannar family has requested to not make online donations, as they are not affiliated with them. Instead donate to The Sannar Family Trust Fund, PO Box 3328, Visalia, CA 93278, or hand-delivered to:The Sannar Family Trust Fund, Citizens Business Bank, 500 W. Main St., Visalia, CA 93291


  4. Thank you for posting this. It still brings tears to my eyes reading and watching the aftermath of what happened. My heart goes out to the Sannar family.

  5. As I watched the embedded video I was reminded that there are no winners in this event. I really feel for the shooter's family as well as the victim's.

    I too lost a brother to mental illness. Fortunately, he only took his own life and not anyone else's. I can only imagine the pain that all who are affected must be feeling.

  6. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Sannar family and the Visalia Ward members. Truly tragic events. Thank you for sharing this with compassion.

  7. A real tragedy. Such a loss for his family. A bishop giving his life for others.

    When the investigation is done it will most likely be found that the man was treated maliciously by a Stake President.


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