Man Flew 4,500 Miles to Surprise Father-in-Law But as He Jumped Out of Bushes Wife's Dad Shot Him

The local sheriff said that no charges are being made against Richard Dennis, who accidentally killed his son-in-law Christopher Bergan

Chris Bergan
Photo: Chris Bergan/Facebook

A tragic case of mistaken identity has changed a family forever.

When Christopher Bergan flew from Norway to Gulf Breeze, Florida, he was hoping to surprise his father-in-law, Richard Dennis, for his 61st birthday.

But when Bergan, 37, startled Dennis by jumping out of some bushes in his backyard upon his arrival, Dennis shot and killed his son-in-law, thinking he was an intruder.

The tragedy unfolded on Tuesday, October 1, when Bergan, who is married to Dennis’ daughter — who is also a resident of Norway — landed in Florida around 11 p.m. and headed straight to his father-in-law’s house, authorities said. Bergan had reportedly lived in Florida before returning to Norway.

About two hours before Bergan arrived at Dennis’ house, another relative had arrived at Dennis’ home and banged on the front door, which startled Dennis, Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson said at a press conference Thursday.

The unnamed family member and Dennis got into a “verbal altercation,” and Dennis “[ran] the person off,” Johnson said.

“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.”

Later in the press conference, while fielding questions from reporters, Johnson said that Dennis was “totally startled” when Bergan jumped out, and that Bergan had allegedly made a “growling” noise when he revealed himself.

Johnson added that Dennis’ bullet — shot from a 380 semi-automatic gun — “was a shot that went straight to [Bergan’s] heart.”

According to the Giffords Law Center, about 36,000 Americans are killed by guns each year, and about 487 of those deaths are unintentional.

The sheriff added that as soon as Dennis realized what he had done, 911 was called and those at the scene attempted first aid to stop the bleeding — Bergan’s friend who had driven him from the airport also witnessed the accident.

“They were working on him when our officers got there, and our officers got there pretty quick,” Johnson said.

“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.”

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Johnson continued to note the tragedy of the accident, calling for prayers for the family during this “horrible” situation.

“Anybody who is religious out there, you need to pray for this family. I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” he said.

Nonetheless, Johnson said that he understood Dennis’ action.

“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 said.

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