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?