VISALIA, Calif. – The suspected gunman in the fatal shooting of a Mormon church official in Central California was mentally ill and believed the church had wronged him when he was a member in the 1980s, family members said Monday.
Kenneth James Ward, 47, would go through delusional spells when he blamed the Mormon church for his troubles, according to his younger brother, Mike Ward.
"When my brother had one of his episodes, he conjured up in his mind that he thought that the Mormons were sending him to hell. He would tell me that," Mike Ward, 44, said in a phone interview from his home in Bakersfield.
Kenneth Ward told his family in Modesto that he was going on a fishing trip Sunday.
Instead, he drove 140 miles south to his childhood town of Visalia, walked into his former church and opened fire on Clay Sannar, 40, a lay bishop with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, police said.
Ward later called police and told them where he could be found. When officers arrived at the location — Ward's childhood home — they confronted him and exchanged gunfire.
Ward was shot multiple times and pronounced dead at a hospital. No police officers were injured.
Church leaders and Ward's relatives said he did not know Sannar. Members had directed him to the lay bishop after he had asked who was the leader of the congregation.
Ward, who had a 6-year-old son, suffered mental trauma from serving in the Persian Gulf War and had been on medication and living on disability benefits, according to his father, George Ward.
"I firmly believe that Kenny, because of the war, suffered post-traumatic stress," the 70-year-old retiree, who shared a home with his son, said between sobs. "He came back and was never the same."
The Ward brothers were raised in the Mormon church by their mother and grandparents, but the family eventually fell out of the church, according to Mike Ward. He said his brother was excommunicated in 1988 and later regained his membership while stationed at Fort Bragg.
Then in 2004, Ward resigned his membership, said Kim Farah, a church spokeswoman in Salt Lake City.
"This is not a political thing. He was not a victim of any abuse, no sexual or physical abuse — never been exposed to that," Mike Ward said. "Mental illness killed my brother and Mr. Sanner."
Police in Visalia didn't return calls for comment Monday. Investigators have not officially discussed a motive.
The glass doors and windows of the church were covered in white cloths Monday afternoon. Church officials also did not respond to messages seeking commnet.
George Ward, who said his son never discussed with him why he left the church, also blamed mental illness for Sunday's shooting.
"I'm still trying to understand why," he said. "His mind was twisted. We can't understand why he did what he did because we're not in his head."
Associated Press Writer Terry Collins in San Francisco contributed to this report.