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“The Letter:” Meeting the monster that killed Zachary Snarr

Oct 18, 2022, 2:33 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2023, 2:48 pm

Zachary Snarr Letter...

Ron and Sy 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. (Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

GUNNISON, Utah — Jorge Benvenuto sat alone in a prison cell in central Utah trying to put into words how he felt about killing Zachary Snarr, a stranger, when he was 19 years old.

He’d wanted to write to the family for many years. He wanted to tell them how sorry he was that he’d shot and killed their 18-year-old son and brother at Little Dell Reservoir on Aug. 28, 1996. He wanted to write a letter to Yvette Rodier, the 18-year-old who survived the shooting.

Zachary Snarr The Letter KSL Podcast

Zachary Snarr’s headstone is surrounded by flowers at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. Zachary’s parents, who use to own a gardening company that he worked for, maintains both his and his brother Levi’s headstone. Ron Snarr said both boys loved flowers. (Ben B. Braun/Deseret News)

But most people in his life advised against it.

For 17 years, Benvenuto sat in maximum security, mostly alone, while his family and friends went to school, got married, and started families. While they lived ordinary lives, he grappled with the extraordinary pain he’d caused to people he’d never met.

“I felt like I owed them at least an apology for what I had done,” he wrote in a letter to KSL. “But I thought that I didn’t have the words to do so, that I couldn’t articulate it the way I wanted to.”

Zachary Snarr The Letter KSL Podcast

Jorge Benvenuto, convicted “thrill killer.” (Utah Department of Corrections)

He worried that his inability to express himself would make an apology seem insincere. Other people advised him against it. They said it would cause more harm than good, that he’d already hurt them enough and that he should just leave them alone.

And he agreed with all of that — but he also couldn’t shake the feeling that he should reach out. While he was in maximum security, he said he struggled, as many people do, with how the isolation creates “an even darker and more resentful mental state.”

“It hindered me from getting to the point in which I could contact them,” he said. “Maybe that’s one of the reasons it took me so long. I always found a reason to put it off for another day.”

He was also still struggling with his own mental health issues.

“I’ve spent so much of my life caught up in my own unresolved issues that I couldn’t see anything or anyone else and what they were going through,” he wrote.

He said he thought about Yvette and Zachary Snarr every day. That he regretted what he’d done. Benvenuto said he regretted not getting help. He regretted not recognizing that he needed help.

October 21, 1998. Sy Snarr grieves during a ceremony in honor of domestic violence victims at the State Capitol. Snarr’s son, Zachary, was shot and killed while taking photographs at Dimple Dell Reservoir in 1996. A photo of her son is on the table. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (Deseret News)

Over the years, he wrote many letters to the Snarrs and Rodier. They all ended up in a garbage can. For a long time, it felt like there weren’t words that could express how he felt.

“They were never good enough,” he wrote. “What does one say to those one has hurt so much? But I kept feeling that it was something I had to do.”

So he kept writing them until he wrote the letter he ended up sending to his mom. She held it until Lianne Bell was able to make contact with the Snarrs through her cousin. While he waited, he thought about what might happen. At worst, he said, they’d reject it.

The best-case scenario he imagined? “The Snarr family would say, ‘Ok, you’ve said your peace, now never contact us again,’” Benvenuto said.

But his letter set something in motion that no one saw coming.

Instead of the expected silence or rejection, in January of 2019, Benvenuto received a letter from Sy, mother to Zachary Snarr.

Zachary Snarr The Letter KSL Podcast

Ron and Sy 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. (Scott G. Winterton / Deseret News)

“It was not even a full page,” Sy Snarr said, “but I just told him how much I appreciated his letter. I told him that, like him, I had gone through a change too towards my feelings. And I said, ‘ want you to know that I have forgiven you. And I know that Zach has forgiven you 100%.’”

A couple of weeks later the Snarrs received another letter. This one was from Benvenuto’s mother, Nelida. Eventually, the three of them were exchanging letters – and phone calls -regularly.

A friendship develops a mom and the killer of Zachary Snarr

From these letters, a friendship between the two families was born. The Snarrs’ affection for the Benvenutos deepened, and a little more than a year after that first letter arrived, Sy Snarr and Jorge Benvenuto met face-to-face at the Central Utah Correctional Facility.

Sy’s friend, Dru Weggland Clark, watched as her friend embraced the man who killed her son.

“I was standing behind Sy, and he said, ‘I’m so sorry I took him from you.’ And Sy said, ‘I know you are.’”

Weggland Clark watched a two-hour conversation between Sy and Jorge, and she said a physical change came over her friend.

Ron Snarr sits for a portrait with his dog Otto as he 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. (Ben B. Braun/Deseret News)

“She was radiant,” Weggland Clark said. “The bluest eyes – I mean, I’ve been with her all morning, all of a sudden her blouse took on this radiant, she was glowing. She expressed her … beyond forgiveness, the redemption for Jorge.”

That meeting, their growing friendship, it led to something else – something even more unexpected about 10 months after that meeting.

The Snarrs invited Benvenuto’s former defense attorney Mark Moffat to their house. They shared how their lives had been transformed by the letter and how they now spoke weekly on the phone, as well as continued to exchange letters regularly.

And then, Sy said, “I so want him to have another chance. I just believe in second chances. I think everybody deserves a second chance.”

Moffat, who’d visited the Snarrs hoping to enlist their help in a legislative effort to repeal the death penalty in Utah, said he listened in awe to the Snarrs’ story.

And then Sy made a suggestion that Moffat still can’t quite believe.

“I just said, ‘I wish I could get him out of there,’” Sy said. “And he said, ‘Do you really feel that way?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ And he said, ‘Well, there are some things you could do. Let me check into it.’ And I was so excited.”

Zachary Snarr The Letter KSL Podcast

A photo of Zachary Snarr that was taken just prior to his murder in August 1996 is pictured at his parents’ house in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022. During an interview, Snarr’s parents, Sy and Ron Snarr, talked about how they forgave and have grow to love Zachary’s murderer, Jorge Benveuto, and his family. (Scott G Winterton/ Deseret News)

Moffat said the meeting is one of the most moving he’s had in his life.

“It’s one of the most profound experiences that I’ve had as a lawyer,” he said. “It’s emotional for me.”

While Sy Snarr said she isn’t sure what the future will hold, including whether or not it’s possible to petition for a change to Benvenuto’s life sentence, she’s certain of one thing. She wants the healing – for all involved – to continue.

“And we don’t want them to suffer anymore,” Sy said of the Benvenuto family. “We love them. I mean, we literally love this family. They’re our family now.”

Listen to the final portion, Episode 8 of the KSL Podcast “The Letter” below or at the KSL Podcasts webpage

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“The Letter:” Meeting the monster that killed Zachary Snarr