Community grieves following Visalia church shooting

FRESNO, Calif.

Leaders of Bishop Clay Sannar's church say they have been overwhelmed by the community's support following his death. That show of support continued Monday, even after a candlelight vigil organized on Facebook was canceled. Organizers said the vigil was canceled out of respect for the family but several people showed up anyway, unaware it had been canceled. "As a family we thought it was important to come out and support the family and the church itself, "said Marnie Chaney of Visalia.

Some of the people who came out were completely unaffiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Others, like Leonard Hughes, attend other wards. Hughes said he and his family learned of the tragedy Sunday afternoon, when church elders came to his home. "The elders came inside and we sat down and we prayed. We prayed for the gunman, too, Just so there would be peace with everything that happened. And we prayed for the family," said Hughes.

As the community mourns, we're also learning more about what happened after 47-year-old Kenneth Ward walked in the church and asked for its leader Sunday. Visalia Police say their investigation has lead them to believe the 40-year-old bishop tried to alert others to get out of the building shortly after he was shot. "It appears that he made some efforts to block his path and kind of try to contain him, if you will, in an effort to buy his time and get folks out of there and alert folks," said Visalia Police Captain Rick Haskill.

Grief counselors were on hand at Sundale Elementary School in Tulare Monday, where several of the Sannar's children attend school. The LDS church is also offering grief counselors to members affected by the tragedy.

A trust fund has been set up to help the Sannar family. You can donate at the Citizens Business Bank on Main Street in Visalia or mail your donations to P.O. Box 3328, Visalia, CA, 93278. A spokesperson for the church said an online fundraiser set up Sunday is not affiliated with the church or the Sannar family.

Action News has learned more about the gunman who ended up being killed in a shootout with Visalia police.

On Sunday morning Kenneth Ward got in his car and drove more than 130 miles and ended up at the Latter Day Saints Church in Visalia where he gunned down Bishop Sannar.

Family members told Action News Kenneth Ward suffered from a bipolar disorder which ultimately led to the shooting of Bishop Clay Sannar. One local criminologist we spoke with agrees, saying Ward's actions were consistent with that of a person who suffers from a mental illness.

"Three days ago I had my brother and today my brother is dead and another man is too," said Kenneth Ward's bother Mike Ward.

Mike ward tries to hold back the tears as he mourns the loss of his brother Kenneth and the man his brother killed Clay Sannar. The church where the crime took place is familiar to the ward family. "That's the church that my brother and I attended in the late 80's and we were both born and raised in the LDS church."

As adults, both men enlisted in the Army. Kenneth served in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. At that point they were no longer with the church.

But after Kenneth Ward returned home from duty mike says his brother became bipolar and suffered episodes where he thought the L.D.S. church was out to get him.

"That was more of a spiritual thing than a physical thing. Where they going to physically get him, no they were.... He was going to go to hell and they were going to send him there."

Kenneth along with his wife moved into their father's house in Modesto eight years ago where he took medicine for his mental illness. Family members say things were going just fine and the couple even had a baby.

But Kenneth did have run-ins with the law.

Action News traveled to Stanislaus County Monday and uncovered court documents that show he made death threats to a bishop at another L.D.S. church in Modesto. He also threatened then Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden. Kenneth Ward spent five days in jail and was given three years probation.

"Here's someone who is not thinking clearly," said criminologist Dr. Eric Hickey.

Doctor Eric Hickey is a criminologist and the Dean of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University in Fresno. He says in Kenneth Ward's mind the delusions and obsessions of his old church played a major role in his violent actions. "But he went back not knowing who he'd see only that he wanted to end this somehow in a very bizarre and tragic way."

After shooting and killing Clay Sannar, Ward called Visalia Police from a payphone and fled near his old South Valley home. He was gunned down by police officers shortly after.

"He knew that the end was going to come. It seems that he had a plan that this was going to end with his life being taken. Rather than take his own life, he allowed the police to do it for him," said Dr. Hickey.

Dr. Hickey adds in most cases those who suffer from mental illnesses only hurt themselves. It's rare that they act out on others.

"We're very sorry. It doesn't describe what we feel for the Sannar family. That was senseless," said Mike Ward.

Clay Sannar's death resonated with Mormon communities not only here in the Valley. At Sannar's alma mater, B.Y.U. professors are remembering the man they knew as a student.

"I saw a news clip about a bishop had been shot, Clay's picture came up, my stomach sank, I felt bad knew him very personally, he was a good guy, willing to go the extra mile," said B.Y.U. Professor Brad Geary.

Friends at the university also say Sannar was a hard-working student and excelled in athletics.

A local church spokesman issued this statement tonight saying: "The day following the tragic death of Bishop Clay Sannar, there has been an outpouring of kindness, generosity, care, and concern for the Sannar family and all those associated with them. The Sannar family is most appreciative of the thoughtfulness and interest of so many."

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