Putting Down The Rocks

By Amy Donaldson

The headstone of Zachary Snarr.
Photo credit: Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Grief was like air for Sy Snarr in the weeks and months after she lost her 18-year-old son in a random shooting.

The grief very quickly became both a sanctuary and a prison.

Even as it suffocated her, it felt like the only place she could exist — a strange in-between place where her anguish seemed to breathe life into her son’s memory.

She existed in this place almost everyday after a 19-year-old shot Zachary Snarr and Yvette Rodier as they were setting up a camera to take pictures of the rising full moon at Little Dell Reservoir in August of 1996. The mother of four searched for reasons, explanations, some shred of information that might make her loss feel bearable.

But nothing satisfied the injustice she felt in losing her “beautiful boy” to such brutality.

“I was sitting in my living room and everywhere I looked, I would see Zach,” she recalled. “His guitar, sitting on the couch playing his guitar, walking through the door, saying, ‘Mom, I’m home.’ … And I was sobbing. I was just sitting there sobbing and this was quite a while just missing him. … And I remember looking up. My oldest son was standing there and he just looked so sad. And when I looked at him, he just walked out of the room.”

That’s when it hit her.

That grief that she’d wrestled and embraced, that she’d tried to run away from and find sanctuary in, that terrible vigil was keeping her from the people she loved most.

“That was the kick in my gut I think that I needed,” she said. “When he saw me so upset, and he looked so sad and just turned around and left the room, I realized I had let the death of one child become more important than the lives of three more than I loved every bit as much as Zach. And it just brought me up short, like, ‘What am I doing? What am I doing to my family? They deserve to have a mom. … They need to know that I still love them more than my life, and that I would do anything for them.'”

Angry with everything

But in those quiet moments alone, Snarr didn’t know if she could do what was necessary. She didn’t know how to leave her painful cocoon. She didn’t know how to be a “normal” parent, a wife, a friend when sadness seemed a part of every breath.

“I knew I had to change, but I didn’t think I could change my feelings for Jorge Benvenuto,” she said of the man who pleaded guilty to killing her son and gravely wounding Rodier. “I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t. I would just curl up in the fetal position. Honestly … it was just so painful. And that pain and then the anger.”

When she wasn’t swimming through heartbreak, she was consumed with rage.

“I was angry with everything and everybody,” she said. “I was angry at (Benvenuto), obviously. I was angry at God for allowing this to happen to my son, if that makes sense. I would see other 18-year-olds out there, and I thought, ‘Why are you here and my son is not?’ I know, that’s totally irrational.”

She thought any possibility of enjoying life had been buried with her son.

“I’d see people out running and laughing, and I’d think, ‘How can they do that? Was I ever that way?'” she recalled. “And I thought ‘I’ll never be happy again. I really, truly believed I will never be happy again. I can’t smile. I can’t laugh. … It was just so devastating.”

Snarr’s friend and neighbor Dru Weggland Clark said she could see and feel her friend’s pain, even when she tried to hide it.

“I personally have never seen anyone with such a physical manifestation of grief,” Clark said. “When you hugged her … (you could feel she was) just broken, just distraught.”

Ron Snarr stands next to his son’s graves at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. Snarr’s sons, Levi and Zachary, are buried next to one another.
Photo credit: Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Clark had always admired the kind of parents Ron and Sy Snarr were to their four children.

“They were a great role model about how to raise a family,” she said. “All the kids knew how to work, how to get things done, but they also knew how to have great family times and fun.”

Sydney Snarr Davis, who was the second oldest of the Snarr children, said losing her younger brother sent the family into a tailspin.

“I grew up in a really happy home,” she said. “My childhood was ideal. I loved my brothers. They loved me. My parents were excellent. We just had so much laughter and joy in our home and really, we were a family that truly loved and enjoyed each other. So after Zach died, my parents just … we were changed.”

The close-knit family was tethered to each other by their grief, but somehow it also isolated them from each other. The children worried about adding to their parents’ burden.

“I would feel like I knew I needed help,” Davis said. “And we all did. But I would go home (from college at Utah State), and I’d see how traumatized and depressed and anguished my parents were. And I was like, ‘I can’t add to that. I don’t want to add to that.’ And Trent did the same. And Levi did the same. And we all just suffered on our own. Yeah, I knew my family was there for me. And they knew I was there for them. But it’s like how can I add to your burden?”

A couple of weeks after Zach’s death, Davis had a dentist appointment to have her wisdom teeth removed. Because she was returning to school at USU, they couldn’t reschedule it.

“I came home from the surgical center, and the pain medication had started wearing off,” she recalled. “And I remember laying on the couch, and I started crying because my mouth hurt so badly.”

Her dad came into the room and found her crying.

“My dad sat next to me and I said, ‘Dad, it just, it just hurts so much,'” she said, tears spilling down her cheeks 25 years later. “And my dad wrapped his arms around me and just started sobbing. And he’s like, ‘I know Doll. I know, it hurts. It hurts so bad.’ And just sobbed. And … we were both crying, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘We aren’t talking about the same pain.’ And my dad just cried and cried.”

Another devastating blow

Davis said they all did the best they could under the weight of their heartbreak, but real joy returned to their lives with the birth of their first grandchild when Davis gave birth to Zachary Davis in October of 2000.

“My parents took on that role with gusto,” Davis said laughing. “Like, they ate it up! And so that was when things started to kind of lift.”

Life gave Sy and Ron Snarr seven grandchildren, and they became the kind grandparents every kid dreams about having — building forts in the living room, slumber parties and trips that allowed them to build treasured memories.

But as they worked to rebuild their happy family life, they were dealt a devastating blow. Their youngest son, Levi, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Sy Snarr met the diagnosis with determined optimism.

“He had a very rare cancer,” she said. “It’s epithelioid sarcoma, which they told us from the get-go, there’s no cure. I said, ‘You just treat him because there’s something more powerful than you.’ … I truly believed I could not, I would not lose another son.”

But they did lose the boy they called their gentle giant.

On Dec. 17, 2007, Levi Johnson Snarr left to, as he told his mother, “go live with my brother.”

Ron Snarr looks at his sons’ graves at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. Snarr’s sons, Levi and Zachary, are buried next to one another.
Photo credit: Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

“I wanted to die for a long time,” Sy Snarr said, pain evident in every syllable. “I used to think, ‘Why would anybody want to die? … How could anybody be that depressed?’ You know, I never understood it.”

She pauses as the tears fill her eyes.

“I get it,” she said. “I get what it’s like to be that depressed, where you literally do not want to get out of bed. I did not want to get out of bed. I did not want to go on with my life. I wanted to die.”

Ron Snarr was equally despondent after burying his youngest son next to Zach in the cemetery plots where they’d intended to be buried. He was working at the University of Utah on the baseball field when a storm rolled in. He raised his arms to the sky and yelled for relief.

“He just put his arms up and said, ‘Come and take me God! Take me! Strike me down.’ I mean, he was like me; it’s like, what is going on here?” his wife said. “We’ve lost … these two amazing sons in totally different ways. But both were so painful. And you’re just trying to get over, get on with losing one and kind of getting to where you think, OK, I’m surviving this day by day … and then we lose another one? And it was just too much.”

First feeling of hope

Sy Snarr said that the weight of grief and anger eventually became too much to bear. She knew she needed a change, but she had no idea how or what might help them.

“When you have that much hatred and anger in you, you become that; you are angry and hateful,” she said. “I didn’t like it. I didn’t like what I had become.”

Sy and Ron Snarr, of Salt Lake City, talk on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, about how they forgave Jorge Benvenuto, who murdered their son, Zachary Snarr, in August 1996 after reading a letter from Benvenuto.
Photo credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

It was as Sy Snarr listened to a woman speak at a church meeting that she felt the first feelings of hope. The woman talked about finding forgiveness after losing someone to violence.

“And it just hit me, I thought, I want to be like that,” she said. “I want to feel that. I want to be able to forgive him.”

That decision was just the beginning. Finding her way to forgiveness would be complicated, but eventually she felt like she’d found a way to rid herself of the resentment that made her heart feel so dark and heavy.

“And it was a process,” she said. “I’ve likened it to backpacks full of rocks, that you have to let go a little at a time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight for me.”

In fact, Sy Snarr said it took her about 15 years to put down those rocks. Her husband said it was a little longer for him — maybe 18 years. But eventually, they found themselves in a good place, a happy place.

Sy Snarr only had one remaining wish, she said. One thing she hoped that someday she’d be able to do.

“I wished I could tell him I’d forgiven him,” she said. “I’ll never get that chance.”

But she was wrong. Not only would she get that chance, she was about to receive the kind of gift so miraculous, most people don’t even believe it exists.

A Death Sentence Waiting to Happen

By Amy Donaldson

Family members gather outside a courtroom where Jorge Benvenuto was sentenced for murder on Jan. 30, 1998. Sy Snarr, Zach Snarr’s mother, holds a large picture of her son.
Photo credit: Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sy Snarr tried to focus on her husband’s face and what he was trying to tell her as she fought her way out of a sleepy haze.

“I had actually been up for so long,” Snarr said trying to recall the hours after her son was murdered in 1996. “They tell me I was standing there and all of a sudden, I just passed out on the floor. They had put me in bed, and then my husband came in and said, ‘They got him. They got him.'”

As the pain yanked her back into the reality of her son being shot by a stranger while on a date with a long-time friend, she realized what he was saying.

“I was like coming to,” she recalled, “and I’m like, ‘What?’ And then it hit me. … They got him!”

A short time later, prosecutor Bob Stott arrived at their Salt Lake home to meet with the family and try to answer some of their questions about the arrest of 19-year-old Jorge Benvenuto, who had confessed to shooting their son Zachary Snarr and Yvette Rodier, both 18.

“I just looked at him and said, ‘Kill him,'” she said. “I actually said that. Because I thought, ‘He deserves to die.’ I wanted him to die.”

Snarr wasn’t alone.

Almost everyone involved felt like if there was ever a case that cried out for the death penalty, it was this one — the unprovoked, random attack of two teenagers who were just enjoying a summer night taking pictures of the moon at Little Dell Reservoir.

“It was just a very bad fact situation,” said prosecutor Roger Blaylock, who worked the case with Stott. “And by bad I don’t mean for a prosecutor. It’s a good situation (for prosecutors), because it’s so terrible. Here are two young people up at the reservoir, just kind of taking pictures of the moon and somebody comes up and shoots them both. … What is there about the defendant that is socially redeeming?”

Inevitable death sentence?

Benvenuto couldn’t afford his own attorney, so the case was assigned to the Salt Lake Legal Defender’s Office. Mark Moffat was one of the attorneys assigned to the case, and right from the start, he said they felt like the deck was stacked against them.

“I just remember when … the shooting occurred,” he said, “it shook the community. We had two young kids that were up there doing an innocent thing … in the mountains, where everybody in the community went from time to time, everybody goes up in the mountains to hike or, you know, get away. And there was just something about that case that freaked the community out.”

Add to the circumstances that Rodier had survived to offer a terrifyingly detailed account of what happened. And their client had confessed.

The crime also occurred at the height of the “tough on crime” stance a lot of communities embraced in the 1990s. There was a long list of legislation passed, both locally and at the federal level, aimed at creating tougher penalties for violent crimes. From gun and gang enhancements to laws that sent juvenile offenders straight into the adult criminal justice system, the attitude of everyone was to protect society by punishing offenders as severely as possible.

Moffat also worried that a jury made up of typical Utahns wouldn’t relate to the struggles of an immigrant from Uruguay.

“One of the things that we thought was (a) positive for us was Jorge’s age,” Moffat recalled. “But given everything else that was going on, with who he was, and what he had done, we just felt it was going to be a death sentence.”

When Benvenuto was charged with aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and two counts of robbery, both families supported the initial effort of prosecutors seeking the death penalty.

It wasn’t until Snarr heard the medical examiner testify that she realized she might not be able to listen to the details about how her son died if the case went to trial.

“The day the medical examiner testified I think was the worst day of my life,” she said. “Because she did show a drawing of Zach and talked about where he shot him and … after he’d shot him twice, he actually held the gun point blank to his head. And I had not known that. And that really affected me. It did. And I had driven myself down there and I literally had to pull over; I could not drive home because I was wailing, sobbing. It really — it just killed me that that had happened to that beautiful boy of mine, you know that his life ended that way. It was hard.”

Then she was watching a news report of a killing in Kearns, and she realized this was going to be much more difficult than she understood.

“They were showing drawings of this person’s body showing where she had been stabbed over and over,” she said of the news report. “And I thought, ‘I cannot watch this on TV about Zach, I can’t do it.'”

A friend of the family, who was also a state senator, worked with prosecutors and corrections officials to arrange a tour of the Utah State Prison for the Snarrs. After the tour, they agreed to a deal that would spare Benvenuto’s life but would keep him in prison for the rest of his life. The deal took advantage of a law passed in 1992 that gave prosecutors another option in capital murder cases — life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Zach’s older sister, Sydney, was out of state when the family toured the prison, but her family told her what they’d seen afterward.

“My older brother Trent said that it gave him nightmares,” Sydney Snarr Davis said. “It was so awful, and I remember him telling me that I think I would rather die than live the rest of my life in that hellhole. And at that point, I was like, ‘Well then, good. Do it.’ You know, let’s forget about him. He can go in there and rot.”

Zach Snarr’s brothers, Levi, 17, (left) and Trent, 23 wait outside courtroom for sentencing of Jorge Benvenuto in 1996. 
Photo credit: Deseret News

Rodier, who had gotten married about 10 months after the shooting, said she didn’t think his punishment was her decision to make, although she acknowledges her family hoped he’d get the death penalty.

“I don’t recall thinking about it at that time,” she said. “I definitely knew I was afraid of him. And so if there was something that would keep him away from me, I was all for it. But I, I don’t think I ever wished death upon him.”

Moffat said Benvenuto vacillated about whether he wanted take the deal — or take his chances with a jury — until moments before he entered a guilty plea in October of 1997.

“Keep in mind, when you do death penalty work, there are people that you come to know, as we call them, volunteers, who basically say, I’m not going to fight. …And Jorge was, on certain days, a volunteer. Other days, not. I mean, he vacillated and it made these discussions really hard. … And they continued right up until the moments before the plea.”

After Benvenuto entered a guilty plea, he fired his defense attorneys and his family hired two private lawyers. Those men appeared with Benvenuto for the sentencing in January 1998. The hearing was a formality, but the change in legal representation indicated there might be a change in legal strategy.

Still, the judge had accepted the guilty plea and then Rodier and members of the Snarr family spoke before Benvenuto was sentenced without offering a word of apology, explanation or defense of himself.

‘I was alone that night’

“I need to know that the murderer will never walk free,” Sy Snarr told the judge. “He made a terrible choice. Now he must pay the consequences for that choice. We need some closure. Our family needs to get on with our lives. Yvette needs to get on with her life. But we cannot do that until we know that we and everyone else are safe.”

Yvette’s mother, Linda Rodier, who died in 2018, said Benvenuto’s actions didn’t just end one life.

“I think it’s important that the court know — and that everyone here know — that on Aug. 28, 1996, Mr. Benvenuto killed two people,” she said. “We miss a part of Yvette that will never be here. She cannot be alone. There is a part of her that is dead, and I don’t know that it will ever be returned to us.”

And then Yvette Rodier stood and read a statement that she wrote. It is the first time she offered insight into the complicated nature of her recovery. Until this moment, she’d been answering reporters’ questions or offering police details of a crime. At 19, she stood and told the world what she’d faced and it was a powerful moment.

Yvette Rodier speaks during a sentencing hearing for Jorge Benvenuto, who shot her and left her for dead and shot and killed Zachary Snarr, in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City on Jan. 30, 1998.
Photo credit: Kristan Jacobsen, Deseret News

“On Aug. 28 1996, the word that describes that night the most is alone,” she said. “I was with my dearest closest friend, and he was murdered right next to me. It’s hard to describe the feelings that go through your mind when you know that someone that you love dearly is lying dead beside you. I was shot many times, I don’t know how many. I’ve got the scars to prove it. But I was alone that night, after a person who had just murdered my friend rummaged through my clothing, and I could feel his hands on my body.

“I was alone.”

She described the painful gunshot wounds, the ringing in her ears, the fog in her brain.

“I guess you really don’t know what happens until after, but I remember it all,” she said. “There is nothing that I have forgotten. And I don’t know if I will ever forget. Since that night, my body has basically been ripped apart again. I’ve had five operations, one more to come. Most of them on my head, opening my head, taking pieces out, putting them back in.”

She talked about chronic pain, about the surgeries and the impact on her family.

“It’s the psychological pain that I think has hurt the most,” she said. “I know what depression is. I know because I have suffered in many days. I think a lot of it has to come from survivor’s guilt. I know that’s a clinical term but I feel guilty that Zack died. And I don’t know if the person who has done this does. I sure hope so. But I didn’t try CPR. I know CPR. Why didn’t I do it? I didn’t try to hold his wounds or hold him tight. I couldn’t remember his family’s phone number in the operating room. And I call that phone number almost every day and I couldn’t remember it.

“I hate dealing with the guilt. It’s so unfair. I hate that feeling. A lot of my psychological pain is fear. I’m afraid to cross the street. I’m afraid someone is attacking me. I’m afraid someone is stalking me. I’m afraid of nighttime. I’m afraid of gunshots on the television. My whole family’s had to alter their life so I wouldn’t have to be alone by myself. I’m too afraid of my fears.

“I don’t sleep. I have horrible nightmares that I die or the people I love die. I think part of a lot of the psychological stuff is that I know that when he stopped that shooting and reloaded, that he was aiming right at me.”

And then she continued: “Zach and I are not the only victims here. Our families and friends, our communities are, too. It’s not just us we need to have justice for. It’s for all of us around us. I just, I know that I have a family who loves me and protects me and takes care of me. And I’m thankful for that. Because I don’t think I would be strong enough to stand today and say how much this has hurt me. But out of all this, I can deal with it. I’m alive. I can wake up tomorrow. I’m lucky. But Zach never will.”

‘I was so naive’

Judge Anne Stirba, who passed away in 2001, was deeply moved by the outpouring of love for Zach Snarr and for Yvette Rodier’s moving plea for justice.

She told Benvenuto he would never really understand what he’d done because he’d never be a parent.

“I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child,” Stirba said. “You will never know what it is to have a child or to lose a child. Mr Benvenuto, I don’t think you will ever know the pain, the full extent, the full measure of pain which you have caused.”

The judge expressed admiration for Rodier.

“What Yvette is today, she is because of her own incredible courage, and her strength and her will to heal, despite what you took from her,” she said.

And then she sentenced Benvenuto to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars. She took the extraordinary step of adding that she would write a letter to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole recommending that he never leave prison.

“I felt so safe when he got life in prison without parole,” Rodier said. “To me, it just made the world a safe place for me again. And I wasn’t afraid, necessarily, that he was getting out, but to have the judge say that … it definitely felt so good, and it continues to feel really good.”

After the sentencing, the Snarrs expressed their relief, even if it was tinged with rage.

“I never have to see him again,” Sy Snarr said at the time. “I think that’s what makes me the happiest because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is sit there in that courtroom with him — it’s hard.”

Now, more than two decades later, Snarr laughs at the idea that it all could have ended at sentencing.

“Oh, I did (think it was over),” she said of her contact with her son’s killer. “I was so naive.”

A Gun and a Death Wish

By Amy Donaldson

Police escort Jorge Benvenuto to jail after his arrest 
Photo credit: KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY — Tom Watson and his wife had just finished watching the 10 p.m. news the night of August 28, 1996 when the phone rang. They let the call go to their answering machine, but when Tom heard the voice pleading for one of them to answer because he’d “done something so bad”, he told his wife to pick up the receiver.

When she did, the man immediately said, “I’ve done something real stupid.”
Watson told police his wife replied, “Here, you better talk to Tom.”

She handed her husband the phone and the 19-year-old they had befriended about a month earlier – Jorge Benvenuto – told him something that made the color drain from his face.

“Tom, I’ve really done something stupid’,” Watson told police Benvenuto said. “And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ The voice on the other line said, ‘I’ve killed two people.’”

While Watson tried to wrap his mind around what Benvenuto was telling him, his young friend grew more agitated.

“You’ll see it on the news shortly,” Watson said Benvenuto told him. “I killed them up at (Little) Dell Reservoir.”

Watson asked Benvenuto where he was, and the younger man told him he was on 10600 South in Sandy. He asked Watson to meet him.

Tom said he couldn’t meet him until 9 a.m. the next morning because he had company.

Then, in an eerily calm voice, Watson said Benvenuto told him, “I think your phone is being tapped. I’m going to hang up.”
The line went dead.

Tom immediately called the police. 

Jorge Benvenuto’s truck found at Little Dell reservoir 
Photo credit: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office

Detectives were already at the apartment complex because the pickup truck abandoned in the parking lot of Little Dell Reservoir was registered to Jorge Benvenuto, and it listed an apartment near Watson’s on the registration. 

As detectives fanned out across the valley chasing leads and looking for Zachary Snarr’s stolen Bronco, Watson called Benvenuto’s sister, Monica. The couple had known her longer, as it was her apartment Jorge had moved into in early July.

Monica told him that she had not seen her brother that day. He’d been staying with her for the last week, and he had been making plans to move out of state.

Earlier that night, she’d returned home to find police and the manager of her new apartment building trying to enter her apartment after reports of a gunshot.

There was a bullet hole in the wall above the sink, but her brother was gone.

She had no idea what happened, but around 2:20 a.m., she had another visit from the police. This time it was Salt Lake County Sheriff’s detectives trying to figure out where her brother was and why he’d shot two people he’d never met.

Watson told police he befriended Benvenuto because he seemed lonely. After his apartment was burglarized, he made a habit of visiting the Watsons, sometimes for hours at a time.

“He started coming up to the (apartment), and we thought it was kind of weird because he never brought a friend or anything with him,” Watson said of Jorge’s visits that began in July. “But he started coming up to our house, and he would sit for three or four or five hours at a time. And he didn’t have friends of his own. And my wife even asked him if he had a girlfriend. And he said, well, he had one in New York. But he didn’t have one here.”

Benvenuto moved to Utah with his family members in the fall of 1995. For the first nine months he was in Utah, he lived with his older brother in Provo. He moved in with his sister, apparently just as she was moving into a new apartment. 

While Monica Benvenuto moved out of the apartment they were sharing, Jorge stayed for another few weeks as the rent was paid through the end of the month. Shortly after she left, the apartment was burglarized. Jorge, who had very few possessions to begin with, lost most of what he cared about, according to his sister. 

Both Monica and the Watsons said Benvenuto was livid and fixated on finding the thief and extracting revenge.

Salt Lake County Sheriff’s detectives recovered a slug from the murder weapon used earlier by Benvenuto for target practice. 
Photo credit: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office

It was after a second burglary that Benvenuto began talking about getting a gun.

“Somebody broke into the apartment and stole a lot of his stuff,” Monica Benvenuto told police after the shooting. “A couple of times this happened – somebody broke in and took all his tools. He had a TV – all this stuff is his. So, he was really upset about that. That’s when he got the gun.”

Watson said he talked often about whom he suspected and what he wanted to do if he found the thief.

“He was very angry,” Watson told police. “He thought that the man that lived all the way to the end of the hall from where he lived, on the left hand side, he thought that he had broke into his house; and he said, if he had the gun he ordered at that time, he says ‘I’d go down there and shoot him.’ And he seemed very disturbed.”

At 19, Benvenuto was too young to legally buy a gun for himself. Police learned from Monica that it was an older co-worker, Evan Smith, who helped him acquire the weapon near the end of July. 

Smith said he and Benvenuto became friends. 

“I’ve met a lot of people like Jorge at his age, you know,” Smith said. “And I was a little bit like Jorge at his age. Not to the extremes he went to, but a lot of similarities.”

His young co-worker was smart, worked hard and dreamed about moving to Las Vegas. Smith said Benvenuto confided in him on occasion, sharing the fact that his parents “had problems and had been through a divorce.” 

He said he was struggling with his relationship with his sister, but Smith told police he didn’t really know the details.

“I never knew the full story on anything,” Smith said. “I really didn’t ask…That was personal information.”

Smith bought the gun on layaway and Jorge paid the payments. Once he’d paid it off, Smith took him shooting in the foothills of the West Desert. 

The Monday before the shooting, Benvenuto quit his job. He told Smith he’d be leaving by the end of the week. But the next morning, Smith said Jorge was fired. He wasn’t sure why.

Once Benvenuto had the gun in his possession, he said things that his family and friends found unnerving. 

As police questioned them in the hours after Snarr was killed and Yvette Rodier was in a hospital fighting for her life, they began to see warning signs that they missed before the shooting.

Monica told police, “It was mainly after he got the gun that he’s been talking about killing somebody.”

When detectives asked why, she said, “Just for no reason.”

They asked who, and she answered, “Anybody.”

“Is he angry at something right now?” the detective asked her in an interview that night. 

Monica, like most who knew Benvenuto, struggled to answer that question. They seemed to agree he was angry, depressed and adrift. But no one could help police understand what led to him shooting two teens he’d never met, who’d done nothing to him and who had nothing to offer him.

A few days after the shooting, Monica Benvenuto would tell a television reporter that the burglaries and buying the gun created a uniquely concerning situation.

Her brother talked about shooting the thieves who’d stolen his property.

“I told him it’s not worth it,” she told the reporter. “You’ll spend the rest of your life in prison for somebody that took some stuff.”

Watson said Benvenuto came to his apartment the day he bought the gun. He had the handgun tucked in his waistband most days after that, and he talked about how it made him feel to take back a little of the power that thieves had stolen from him.

The investigation at the crime scene at Little Dell reservoir in August, 1996
Photo credit: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office

In between talking with Watson and Monica Benvenuto, detectives found Snarr’s Bronco abandoned in the parking lot of a car dealership on 10600 South – the very place Benvenuto told Watson he was when he called.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, detectives went to the place where Tom told Jorge they could meet. No one showed up.

Around 10 p.m. that night, Jorge called Tom again. He told him he’d walked to a gas station in American Fork, and he asked for money. A few minutes after that call, Lehi police approached him as he sat on a curb outside the gas station, and once they learned who he was, they called Salt Lake County Sheriff’s detectives.

They had their man.

Sgt. Jerry Townsend let his detectives know Benvenuto had been detained by Lehi police. He jumped in his unmarked car and drove south to pick him up. Almost immediately after putting the young man, covered in dust from walking along the railroad tracks, into his car, Benvenuto began talking.

“How long did it take for you guys to find the people I shot?” he asked.

Townsend detailed their conversation in a report. When Townsend told him that Rodier had survived, he was shocked.

“You mean the girl isn’t dead?” the report said Benvenuto said. “I can’t believe she’s not dead. I wish she would have died so she didn’t have to suffer.”

Detectives Keith Stephens and Kris Ownby questioned Benvenuto once he arrived at their offices. He never asked for an attorney, and confessed to the shooting right away. When asked for his reasons, he doesn’t hesitate.

“What it basically boils down to is I’m tired of living,” he said, “and I don’t want to breathe anymore.”

Stephens interrupts him, but then Benvenuto continues. He never wanted to kill anyone. The shooting “that was in the heat of the moment thing.”

He tells the detectives that he was driving around, listening to the radio “to see if I could muster enough nerve to do me in.”

Stephens asks if he was planning to take his own life, and Benvenuto says “yes”.

“Maybe I’m just too chicken (expletive) to do it myself,” he tells them. After an exchange about how these feelings led to him killing someone else, he said, “I didn’t really mean to do it, but it happened, you know. I don’t know. I don’t know what came over me.”

They discuss the fact that he reloaded the gun to make sure Rodier didn’t survive. And then he makes a request.

“Give me the death penalty,” he said. “I deserve it. You both know I deserve it.”

And then he continues, “The whole thing is really stupid. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t do it like that. I’d leave them alone, let them live their life…and just take mine.”

The question about why a young man with no criminal history would shoot two people he’d never met would nag everyone involved in the case for years. 

The Survivor

By Amy Donaldson

Yvette Rodier speaks to news reporters from her hospital bed. 
Photo credit: KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY — Yvette Rodier willed herself not to move as the man who’d emptied a gun into her body shoved his hand into the pocket of her jeans.

She realized she needed to stop screaming and pretend to play dead when the initial burst of gunfire stopped, and she heard him reloading the gun. The 18-year-old fell on her side next to her date, Zach Snarr, as bullets ripped through her side and her leg. After he reloaded, he fired at her head.

Then, as suddenly as the shooting started, it stopped.

She heard footsteps toward them, and she held her breath. Zach lay motionless beside her.

Yvette’s eyes were open, and she saw the shooter’s, felt his breath on her skin as he searched their pockets. She swallowed fears about what he might be looking for or what he might do.

On a second search of Zach’s pockets, he found what he was looking for — Zach’s keys. He ran toward the parking lot of LIttle Dell Reservoir where they’d parked just a few minutes earlier to unload the camera equipment they planned to use to take pictures of a rising full moon over the water.

An aerial shot of the area where the shooting happened, Little Dell reservoir
Photo credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Yvette exhaled.

It smelled like something was burning. She tasted metal. Her head felt hot, her body tingled.

“It felt like I was sweating, but that was blood,” she testified in the preliminary hearing in February of 1997, just seven months after the shooting that killed one of her best friends and changed the course of her own life.

Yvette didn’t move until she heard the Bronco drive away, and then she called for help.

“Help!” she yelled. “We’ve been shot!”

A woman’s voice responded.

The woman said something about going for help. Yvette laid in the silence but not for long. She didn’t know why they’d been shot. She didn’t know if he’d come back.

She called Zach’s name. He didn’t answer.

She tried to stand up, but her right leg wouldn’t support her.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” she testified. “But I knew I had to get help, and I knew that … it would have taken a long time to go back up the asphalt, then over to the road, and I knew that the road was above me, so I knew that I could go up the hill.”

What she did to survive the night of Aug. 18, 1996, still shocks the detective who led the investigation of the shooting.

Detective Keith Stephens remembers the shooting of Zachary Snarr and Yvette Rodier at Little Dell reservoir 
Photo credit: Andrea Smardon

“We came back a couple times to photograph both at night and during the daytime just to get that different perspective,” said now-retired Salt Lake County sheriff’s detective Keith Stephens. “And it was … it was just unbelievable. … Just like … did this really happen?”

And that was just the beginning of how Yvette’s determination to reclaim her life would impress and inspire those lucky enough to know her.

“It was superhuman,” he said, stopping to fight back emotion. And that continued, he said, throughout the investigation. Yvette accommodated every request from police or prosecutors, and even the media.

“She was extremely selfless,” he said, his voice quivering. “She put all her injuries aside to help with the investigation. … She was very eager to help, very eager to, in her own way, speak for Zach.”

Yvette’s fight for her life would only become more complicated in the months and years after her miraculous survival. And it began from the moment she woke up in the hospital with her mother sitting next to her.

“I just know Zach’s dead,” she said. “I don’t, I don’t know how. But I’m sure of it.”

Later that morning, the Snarr family gathered in her room.

“And Sy came to me very first and hugged me,” Yvette recalled, referring to Zach’s mother, Sy Snarr. “And she leaned in and just said, ‘I’m so glad he was with you, because I know he was happy.'”

Gratitude and guilt washed over Yvette.

“I remember … those words daily,” she said softly. “And it was such a gift that they would take that time and come and visit me and tell me that, you know, especially the day after their son’s been killed.”

Sy Snarr knelt next to Yvette, her grief so heavy, she couldn’t even stand.

Yvette took her through every detail of Zach’s last night from where they went to dinner to the fact that he’d expressed so much pride in the fact that his mother had made the quilt he’d spread on the ground.

The blanket Sy Snarr made for Zachary Snarr at the crime scene
Photo credit: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office

“I don’t know why it mattered, but I never would have known,” Snarr said. “I had taken him to lunch there a few days before — Zach and I, just the two of us — and he liked it, and I think that’s why he took her there, but I was glad to know that.”

What Yvette couldn’t share was how she felt guilty about surviving when Zach did not.

“When I was on the side of the road, and I had left Zach to get help,” she said. “I think I started feeling guilt at that moment that I wasn’t with him. And that he likely had died and I didn’t.”

The camera bag at the crime scene
Photo credit: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Yvette’s road to recovery was brutal.

First, there were the physical injuries. No one could tell how many times she had been shot because she also sustained injuries from the shrapnel created when the bullets hit the tripod. She suffered hearing loss, memory problems, and for months, she had a severe limp because her leg was so badly injured.

“I was hit several times in the head, so there was a lot of blood and damage to my skull,” she said. “He used hollow tip or hollow point bullets. And so one of them hit my left side in my back and went all the way through and got lodged in my left inner thigh. One hit my left side and just totally expanded and blew up the left side, just opened it up raw. And then one more along my shoulder.”

“And it was like, she is going to be OK, but boy, she’s got an ugly road ahead of her,” said her aunt Toni Sullivan. “She really had some very serious, critical injuries. And it was clear that there was a major road ahead (for) her recovery.”

Almost more daunting, however, was the recovery she’d face from wounds most people couldn’t see.

“There were many changes,” Sullivan said. “She became more withdrawn. … For many years, and to this day, she suffered survivor’s guilt. … She was always fearful, and she’s suffered a lot of nightmares … for years and years and years because she would say she could still feel his breath when she’d be asleep.”

Sullivan described how Yvette’s mother, Linda Dart Rodier, who died in 2018, had to clean and treat the gaping wound on her daughter’s side every day.

“That was really difficult for Linda,” Sullivan recalled of her sister. “Initially, it was really difficult to realize she was sticking her (hands) all the way through her daughter’s body.”

Yvette said she continued to struggle with memory loss, hearing loss and nightmares. She couldn’t be alone, and she was terrorized by even the sound of gunshots on TV.

Still, she was determined to reclaim her life. She attended classes at the University of Utah as she’d planned, and she began dating.

Yvette didn’t get to choose what happened to her. But as she worked to heal herself and reclaim her life, she’d find immense gratitude for her ability to choose her path.

“I think that’s the best part about not having any choice in this is that afterward, then I have all the choices,” she said. “I didn’t have a choice. Zach didn’t have a choice. But once I lived, and I’m coming out into society, I have all the cards, I have all the choices. So I’ve been trying to think of it in that way that these are really cool choices I get to have, because of something horrible, but I still have choices.

Yvette Rodier and Sy Snarr attend the funeral of Zachary Snarr
Photo credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“So it’s, I feel powerless to the emotional pain. But as far as moving forward, I feel empowered to be making choices.”

And among those choices she made as she rebuilt her life was to never say the name of the man who shot her. She has held fast to that choice, and it has helped her feel safe.

But more than two decades after that terrifying night, she’d be faced with a choice that would challenge her decision to erase him from her life.

Every Parent’s Nightmare

By Amy Donaldson

Ron and Sy Snarr grieve the shooting death of their son, Zachary Snarr
Photo credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sy Snarr understood the words coming out of the Salt Lake police officer’s mouth, but somehow, they just didn’t make sense.

“It was just surreal to me, because I just kept thinking … ‘Wake up! This has to be a dream. Wake up,'” she said. “I just kept looking at them, and they said the girl he was with had been shot. She was at the hospital. I’m just like, ‘This can not be happening.’ They went on and on. And I said, ‘Wait a minute. Are you telling me my son’s dead?’

“They just kinda looked at me like, ‘This woman’s not getting it.’ And I wasn’t. It could not be real to me, you know? This could not have happened to him.”

But it did.

What happened to Zachary Snarr and Yvette Rodier rocked the community and garnered national attention.

In an interview a few days after Zach’s murder, Sy Snarr summed up what happened in a few gut-wrenching sentences.

“It was violent, it was senseless,” Snarr said in that interview, “and I will never understand it, I will never accept it.”

A random act of violence

On Aug. 28, 1996, a teenager they’d never met changed the course of their lives with a single violent act. A 19-year-old struggling with whether to use the gun he’d just purchased to end his own life, decided instead to open fire on two strangers on a date as they were setting up camera equipment on the shore at Little Dell Reservoir just outside of Salt Lake City.

It is a decision that sent shockwaves through the community, and it’s continued to reverberate through the lives of those touched by the incident for the last 26 years. For the Snarrs, it changed them in ways they didn’t really even understand or recognize until decades later.

Sy and Ron Snarr revisit that agonizing night and the painful changes that came afterward in a new podcast from KSL: “The Letter.” But this isn’t just a story of loss and grief and all the ways it transforms people. It’s also the story of how those impacted by violence recover, reclaim and rebuild their lives.

And in the case of the Snarr family, it’s also a story about the healing power of forgiveness, and the impact of an unexpected gift — a letter from the man who murdered their son.

But to fully understand the miracle the Snarrs say they’ve experienced, it is necessary to travel back in time to the day it happened, Aug. 28, 1996.

His last day

The day that shattered Sy Snarr’s world started out like any other. It was a warm, late-summer day, and she was working at Busath Photography while raising four children. She rushed into her house after work to see that her kitchen had been cleaned.

She turned to her 18-year-old son Zach for answers.

“Zach was standing there, and I said, ‘Who cleaned my kitchen?’ And he said, ‘I did it for you, Mama.’ And I said, ‘Thanks, Zach.’ And I am so grateful that I noticed. You know how sometimes you don’t notice these things, I noticed.”

She pauses before sharing the rest of her feelings about what would be a forgettable moment on any other day.

“But I wished I would have stopped and hugged him, and told him one last time how much I loved him. But I was in a hurry because I was going up to Park City. …But I have always been grateful that I noticed he’d done that for me.”

For his mother, Zach’s thoughtful act was pretty standard behavior for the 18-year-old. In a lot of ways, he was a typical teenager — he loved rock music, playing pranks, relished traveling, was gifted at photography and was as independent as they come.

But he also had a sensitivity about him that belied his age.

Even years after his death, Snarr would hear from neighbors that he’d stopped to talk with them, to help them move trash cans or shovel snow. He was a good-natured, good-hearted son, transitioning from an idyllic childhood to a promising future.

But any promise ended with a knock on the Snarrs’ front door just after midnight. Sydney Snarr answered the door and then summoned her parents for the two police officers.

“I just sat straight up in bed and I said, ‘Zach’s not home,'” his mother recalled. “I think I knew at that instant it had to do with Zach. … It’s weird because it’s such a fog all of that time, but I can recall every detail of that night.”

She remembers what they were wearing, and that the officers asked if Zach was involved in a gang.

“They weren’t in police uniforms,” she said. “They were like in black leather. … Anyway, I said, ‘What’s happened to my son?’ Because I just knew. And they said, ‘Well, will you sit down?'”

She sat next to her husband on the sofa in their living room, where pictures of their children adorned the walls behind them.

“I said, ‘Is he OK?'” she recalled. “They said, ‘Well, your son was involved in a shooting tonight.’ And I just thought, ‘You’ve got the wrong kid. Zach would never be involved in something like that!’ And they said he’d been shot and he hadn’t made it. And it was just surreal to me because I kept thinking, ‘That didn’t happen. Wake up. This has to be a dream. Wake up.'”

Once she realized what the two police officers were telling her, she fell across her husband’s lap and the two of them sobbed and screamed and tried not to shatter into a thousand pieces.

Her first impulse was to go wherever Zach was.

“I said, ‘I want to see my son,'” Sy Snarr said. “I wanted to go see him, and they said, ‘You can’t do that. You know, he’s evidence.’ … He was, I think, probably still up there. … I drove right past there, and he would have been laying there. That kind of haunted me because I was that close to him, and I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.”

The aftermath

When police told Sy Snarr that Rodier survived the shooting, she had a friend drive her to the hospital. Ron Snarr walked the neighborhood and Sydney Snarr and her brothers tried to comfort each other as friends and relatives began gathering at their small Sugar House home.

When she returned home, her house was full of people.

“My siblings were there,” she said. “My husband’s siblings were there. Friends, neighbors. … One neighbor told me she heard me screaming. I don’t remember screaming. But she heard me. It was just an awful, awful night.”

Their Zach was gone.

Yvette Rodier and Sy Snarr attend the funeral of Zachary Snarr
Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

And in his absence, the pain contaminated everything. She said the sadness, the grief felt like a weight that might suffocate her.

“You go through so many different feelings and emotions,” she said of the days after his death. “I say to people, ‘When people say they have a broken heart, it’s real. It’s a physical thing. It’s a physical pain.’ That kind of grief. … A friend told me that when I was breathing, I would moan with every breath. It’s that painful. I can’t imagine anything worse. … It’s hell. It’s a living hell.”

The thought of doing even the most mundane task was overwhelming.

“It took me a while,” she said of trying to pick up the pieces of her life. “I didn’t want to leave the house. I would just curl up in the fetal position, honestly. It was just so painful. … And then the anger. I was angry with everything and everybody. I was angry at him. I was angry at God for allowing this to happen to my son, if that makes sense. … I’d see people out running and laughing, and I’d wonder, ‘How can they do that?’ … I really, truly believed I would never be happy again. It was just so devastating.”

That night sent shockwaves through her life, through the lives of her children and through the lives of strangers who were rocked by the random brutality of the crime.

“That night is like a video in my mind,” she said. “It just plays over and over, and I’ve never forgotten it.”

Ron and Sy Snarr remember Zachary Snarr. Zachary was killed in a shooting in 1996. 
Photo credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Thursday morning, the newspaper detailed what happened, and she spiraled into darkness all over again.

“I didn’t know until that moment that he’d been shot in the head,” she said. “And that really affected me. I think my knees almost gave out. … That was hard.”

The man accused of killing their son was arrested that next morning. Two days later, the family gathered on the living room sofa to do an interview they hoped would satisfy the media repeatedly knocking on their door.

Sitting between her youngest brother and her father, Sydney Snarr sobs as she tries to explain to reporters what the world lost with her brother’s death.

“He wasn’t just some average guy,” she said. “He was exceptional.”

As the family and the community tried to grapple with what appeared to be a random act of violence, Sy Snarr tried to express a pain so consuming, it felt like it had swallowed her whole. As for the 19-year-old who’d robbed her of a future with her son, she couldn’t even see him as a human being.

“I saw him as a monster,” she said. “Why would he shoot him? Zach would have given him the Bronco. … But it wasn’t about that.”

And it would take more than two decades for her to understand what did happen the night her son was gunned down. That understanding would begin 22 years after that agonizing night with a letter from the man who murdered their son.