A tight-knit community in Utah is reeling after the mysterious murder of a cowboy from a well-known family and the apparent suicide of the man who killed him. A woman in the house witnessed the killing but escaped unharmed.
While authorities remained tight-lipped, the talk of the town is that the tragedy is a love triangle gone terribly wrong. Jacob Milchak, 24, allegedly shot and killed Tate Jensen, 31, before apparently killing himself nearby on the night of August 28.
"There's a romantic triangle situation going on there. That had to be it," said Gary Prazen, Milchak's former boss and a friend of both families. "I think the connection was more the woman…this was one of them things."
Jensen was a cowboy from a wealthy and prominent family in Price, Utah, a small town 120 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. He was raised on a cattle ranch and his parents own Tavaputs Ranch, a 10,000 acre property that is both a tourist ranch and a working cattle operation.
Jensen was also an area director for the Utah Cattlemen's Association who "loved life, loved his family, loved his friends and loved being a cowboy," according to his obituary.
"He was a very good kid, very popular," Prazen said. "He belonged to a big ranching family, which owns a lot of ground up in the mountains."
Prazen described Milchak as "very smart and very easy-going." Milchak worked as an electrician and was an avid outdoorsman. Passionate about his work, his family "knew he was destined for [it] after putting the keys into the light socket at the age of two," according to his obituary.
"We're still kind of shook up. This whole thing is unbelievable," Prazen said. "It just doesn't sound true."
On August 28 at around 11 p.m., police were notified that shots were fired at a home in Carbon County; a man had been shot and a woman was still inside the house.
When deputies arrived, they located Jensen inside the house with "fatal wounds," and a short distance from the home Milchak was found with "what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound," according to a Carbon County Sheriff's Office press release.
Police are still investigating the crime but said that, at this time, "the evidence indicates this incident is a murder/suicide."
"On Sunday night, Tate was murdered at his home in Price," wrote Robert Kirby, a friend of the Jensen family and a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune. "The details are still sketchy, but the easy-going cowboy I knew was shot to death over something so ridiculous that it will probably never be fully comprehended."
The Carbon County newspaper, the Sun Advocate, identified the female in the house was Mandy Bera Jessen. She allegedly saw Milchak approach the house and shoot Jensen through the window before entering the house. She was able to get out of the house and drive away. She called 911 and met authorities in a nearby parking lot.
When ABCNews.com called Jessen, a woman answered the phone and said she was not Jessen, but said "it's her family." When asked about the case, the woman said, "No, I'm sorry. You'll have to talk to the police department" and hung up the phone.
"I know Jake was involved with a girl, but I don't know if it was that girl," said Danny Blanton, in regards to Jessen. "It's a lot of 'he said, she said.'" Blanton is Prazen's son-in-law and works for his company. He was Milchak's direct supervisor when he worked there. He is a friend of both families.
Blanton was at Jensen's memorial yesterday and said the family was in a state of shock. Just last weekend, the family celebrated Jensen's sister's wedding.
"They went from one weekend—laughing, happy-go-lucky at a wedding—to the next weekend, this," Blanton said. "You never know what goes on behind closed doors, but, as far as the two of them, I don't know of anyone who disliked either of them."
The Milchak and Jensen families could not be reached for comment. Both families are holding memorial services today.