Florida man mistakenly shoots and kills son-in-law in birthday surprise gone wrong

Posted at 5:54 PM, Oct 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-06 00:56:11-04

PENSACOLA, Fla. – A Florida man shot and killed his son-in-law when a birthday prank went horribly wrong Tuesday night, authorities say.

Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson said the homeowner, 61-year-old Richard Dennis, first heard a banging on his front door around 9:30 p.m., and went out to chase away another relative in an unrelated dispute.

Two hours later, 37-year-old Christopher Bergan, who flew from Norway to surprise Dennis on his birthday, arrived at the Gulf Breeze home.

Sheriff Johnson said Dennis heard the same banging around 11:30 p.m. – this time at the back door. He took his .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol, flipped on the porch light and walked out to see who it was.

As Dennis looked for the source of the noise, Bergan jumped out of the bushes while making a “growling sound,” startling his father-in-law.

“Mr. Dennis gets off one round, striking Mr. Bergan, killing him instantly,” Johnson said. “When our deputies arrived they already had towels on the individual trying to stop the bleeding.”

Further investigation found the shooting to be “totally accidental,” and no charges are expected to be filed.

The sheriff said he couldn’t second-guess Dennis’ actions after what he experienced earlier in the evening.

“I think it was just a horrible accident that should never have happened,” Johnson said.  “Anybody who is religious out there, you need to pray for this family. I can’t imagine what they’re going through… it’s horrible.”