Hill Cumorah tourists take cover after bullet hits complex

A western New York man was arraigned on a reckless endangerment charge Thursday after a round he fired while target shooting struck a window at the Hill Cumorah complex, leading tourists to take cover and prompting a massive police presence at the religious site, state police said.

Local, state and federal law enforcement officers descended on the historic area east of Rochester, considered important to the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after gunfire was reported at about 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.

State troopers and Ontario County sheriff’s deputies reported hearing more shots when they arrived. About 75 people who were inside the Hill Cumorah Visitor’s Center at the time were told to shelter in place until being evacuated by police SWAT teams.

No one was hurt.

Investigators determined the shots were coming from a 23-year-old Fairport resident who was target shooting from farmland west of the Hill Cumorah complex, state police said. He was taken into custody, arraigned Thursday and released. Authorities do not believe he intentionally fired at the complex.

Prior to the announcement of an arrest, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement that several shots were fired at or near the visitor’s center.

“Gratefully, no injuries have been reported,” the statement by Eric Hawkins said. The church did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Latter-day Saints believe that their faith’s founder, Joseph Smith, found metal plates in the hills of nearby Palmyra in 1823 that became the Book of Mormon. Beginning in 1937, the event was celebrated in the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant that drew tens of thousands of visitors to the site each year.

The Salt Lake City based-church announced in 2018 that the pageant would end after 2020 as it moved away from large-scale productions. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the final shows.

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