A 61-year-old Florida man won’t face charges after accidentally shooting his son-in-law who had jumped out of the bushes during a surprise birthday visit, police said on Thursday, Oct. 3, according to ABC News.
Richard Dennis was so startled that he opened fire on Christopher Bergan, 37, outside his house in Pensacola, Florida, on Tuesday night, Oct. 1, Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson said during a news conference.
Bergan was married to Dennis’s daughter and had lived in Florida before they moved to his native Norway.
Johnson said that Bergan headed straight to Dennis’s house for his planned surprise after arriving at an unnamed Florida airport from Norway at around 11 p.m. Dennis heard banging on the back door at 11:30 p.m. and turned on the porch light, Bergan jumped out of the bushes, making a “growling sound” to wish him happy birthday.
That’s when Dennis, who was unaware of Bergan’s arrival, fired one round from his .380 semi-automatic firearm, hitting his son-in-law in the heart and instantly killing him, Johnson said, New York Post reported.
“He was totally startled,” Johnson said of Dennis.
Earlier that night, another one of Dennis’s relatives came to his home and started banging on his front door in a similar manner. Dennis was startled, Johnson said, and the pair got in a verbal altercation before the relative left at about 9.30 pm.
“He just had a confrontation at the front of his house. A couple of hours later somebody’s banging on his back door … and then somebody jumps out of the bushes,” Johnson said. “You can’t say anything against Mr. Dennis for doing what he did.”
Amber Roland, an attorney with the State Attorney’s Office, said based on a police investigation that she “determined that this was simply a tragic accident.”
“No charges are warranted,” the sheriff said, calling the shooting a “horrible accident.”
“Anybody who is religious out there, you need to pray for this family,” the sheriff said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through … it’s horrible.”