A random, deadly shooting during a ward sacrament meeting in Fallon, Nevada, has staggered the tightly knit farming community.
But the family of slain shooting victim Charles E. "Bert" Miller — along with his fellow ward members and neighbors — are not alone, said the Area Seventy who presides over the western Nevada region.
Elder Ren S. Johnson reported that people of all backgrounds in the community and beyond are offering heartfelt support while simultaneously mourning the July 22 death of Miller, 61, a soft-spoken mechanic and volunteer firefighter.
“The Fallon community, both inside and outside of the Church, is a supportive, ministering type of community,” he said.
Almost immediately after the shooting, priesthood leaders who preside over the Fallon region were in contact with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presidency of the Seventy and other General Authorities. Each of the Brethren asked the same question: How can the Church help?
Grief counselors from LDS Family Services were immediately dispatched to Fallon to assist Miller’s loved ones, along with people of all ages from the Fallon 3rd Ward, Fallon Nevada South Stake, who witnessed the shooting.
“That support will continue as long as it is needed,” said Elder Johnson.
The Area Seventy has also spent time with Miller’s wife, LuDene Miller, and other relatives. “They are doing as well as could be expected.”
Even while grieving her husband’s death, LuDene Miller expressed to Elder Johnson her concern for her fellow ward members and any others who might be hesitant to return to worship services.
Support from the greater western Nevada community — including municipal and public safety officials — is also helping to sustain the Miller family, said Elder Johnson. “You won’t find a more stalwart group of people than those in Fallon.”
Almost 100 people were attending Sunday worship services when a lone gunman allegedly entered the Fallon meetinghouse chapel and shot and killed Miller at point-blank range.
Witnesses reported hearing four to eight shots from a powerful handgun, according to the Deseret News. Bert Miller’s brother, Duane, 64, was wounded in the leg during the shooting. He was treated and released at a local hospital.
Kelly O’Conner, 48, faces multiple criminal charges, including first-degree murder. The alleged gunman and Bert Miller belonged to the same ward.
Investigators have not determined a motive behind the slaying.
The Miller family was left astonished and confused over the loss of a man loved and respected for his thoughtfulness, community service and an “endearing overuse of emojis while texting,” the Deseret News reported.
“He was one of the most selfless, soft-spoken, kind people I know,” said Heidi Ayers, the second of Miller’s three children. “We have no way to understand why this happened. My dad shook (O’Connor’s) hand before the meeting.”
LuDene Miller, who was married to Bert Miller for 37 years and is undergoing cancer treatment, was not at the meeting because her husband had urged her to stay home to rest the ankle she broke in a fall several days ago, the Deseret News reported.
Relatives remember Bert Miller always making time to ride four-wheelers with his five grandchildren. “He was a great dad, but he was a better Papa.”
He also enjoyed fishing and serving his family and others, without looking for fanfare or attention.
Duane Miller said his brother was the sort of man who stepped forward when he was needed. Now his survivors are drawing upon their faith to sustain them as they grieve.
“It’s what keeps us going, our understanding of the plan of salvation and knowledge that families are eternal and that we’ll see him again,” he said.
Bert Miller was known as a “Fallon boy, born and raised” who left the small Nevada town only to earn a degree in diesel mechanics at the Utah school now known as Utah Valley University. Miller and his wife operated an auto parts store in town. After they sold it, he worked as a mechanic for 20 years at the nearby Navy base for Chugach International.
Understandably, the tragedy has left Fallon residents sad and confused. There’s concern for the children and young people who witnessed the shooting in a sacred gathering place where people typically find peace and refuge.
A viewing will be held on Thursday, July 26, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Smith Family Funeral Home, 505 Rio Vista Dr., in Fallon.
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday, July 27, at 10 a.m., with a viewing at 9 a.m. at the Church meetinghouse at 450 N. Taylor Street in Fallon. Burial will follow at the Churchill Public Cemetery.