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Florida man fatally shoots son-in-law who was trying to surprise him for his birthday

The incident was "a horrible accident that should have never happened," the Santa Rosa County sheriff said.
/ Source: NBC News

A Florida man who shot and killed his son-in-law who jumped out of a bush to surprise him for his birthday will not face criminal charges, authorities said.

Christopher Bergan, 37, had arrived in Florida from Norway on Tuesday night to surprise his wife's father, Richard Dennis, 61, Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson said at a news conference Thursday.

Christopher and Heather Bergan.Facebook

The sheriff called the shooting "totally accidental," saying it was preceded by an unrelated incident at about 9:30 p.m. that night when a relative banged on Dennis’ front door. The banging startled Dennis, who went outside and ran the person off, the sheriff said.

About two hours later, Bergan arrived at the home in Gulf Breeze outside of Pensacola to surprise his father-in-law, according to the sheriff.

“At 11:30, Mr. Dennis hears the same type of banging on the back door that he heard on the front door earlier,” the sheriff said. “So he turns on the back porch light, he steps out and Mr. Bergan jumps out of the shadows, scaring Mr. Dennis.”

Bergan made a growling sound when he jumped out of the bushes, the sheriff said, citing a police report.

Dennis fired one round and struck Bergan, killing him instantly, according to the sheriff.

“Our investigation has revealed that this was totally accidental, it was a really sad occurrence, and that no charges are warranted in this case,” Sheriff Johnson said.

After the shots were fired, Dennis immediately called 911 and started first aid, the sheriff said, adding that when deputies arrived to the scene, there were towels on Bergan and attempts had been made to stop the bleeding.

The incident was "a horrible accident that should have never happened," Johnson said. "I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” he said of the family.