An elaborate prank turned into tragedy for a family when a Florida man fatally shot his son-in-law thinking he was an intruder.
On October 1, Christopher Bergan, 37, flew from his home in Norway to Gulf Breeze hoping to surprise his father-in-law, Richard Dennis, for his 61st birthday. But when he knocked on the door and sprung out of the bushes, he startled Dennis, causing him to point his gun and shoot.
In a press conference held this Thursday, October 3, County Sheriff Bob Johnson said Dennis was especially startled by the prank because about two hours prior, another relative had banged on his door, and the two had gotten into a heated altercation.
“At 11:30, Mr. Dennis hears the same type of banging on the back door that he heard on the front door earlier,” Johnson said. “So he turns on the back porch light, he steps out, and Mr. Bergan jumps out of the shadows, scaring Mr. Dennis. Mr. Dennis gives off one round, striking Mr. Bergan, killing him instantly.”
Bergan was married to Dennis’s daughter. The two moved to Norway after living in Florida.
Johnson said that Dennis was “totally startled” when Bergan jumped at him “growling,” and didn’t think twice before taking out his 380 semi-automatic gun. Speaking of Bergan, the sheriff said the shot went “straight to his heart.”
Johnson said that as soon as Dennis realized what he had done, 911 was called and paramedics attempted to stop Bergan’s bleeding. Bergan’s friend who had driven him from the airport to his father-in-law’s home also witnessed the accident.
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“Our investigation has revealed that this was totally accidental,” Johnson told reporters. “It was a really sad occurrence, and that no charges are warranted in this case.”
Dennis will not be charged in the case, as officials say the accidental murder was just a sad case of mistaken identity.
“Anybody who is religious out there, you need to pray for this family. I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” he said. “I’m not going to second guess Mr. Dennis for doing what he did. I mean, here he is, he just had a confrontation at the front of his house, a couple hours later somebody’s banging on his back door. And it’s a fenced yard, and somebody jumps out of the bushes, I mean, you can’t really say anything against Mr. Dennis for doing what he did.”
“I think it’s just a horrible accident that should never have happened,” Johnson added.
Approximately 36,000 Americans are killed by guns each year, and about 487 of those deaths are unintentional, according to Giffords Law Center.