JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Authorities on Thursday announced another arrest in the February 2022 murder of St. Johns County father of four Jared Bridegan.
The State Attorney’s Office and Jacksonville Beach Police Department announced that Mario Fernandez Saldana, the husband of Bridegan’s ex-wife Shanna Gardner Fernandez, has been arrested in Bridegan’s murder.
Bridegan was gunned down Feb. 16, 2022, in Jacksonville Beach after taking his twins he shared with ex-wife Shanna Gardner Fernandez, and his then-2-year-old Bexley, his daughter with wife Kirsten Bridegan, to dinner. The software engineer had just dropped off the twins at Gardner-Fernandez’s house when he encountered a tire in Sanctuary Boulevard, a one-way road.
Jacksonville Beach Police Chief Gene Paul Smith said the “the tire was purposely placed there to make him stop which he did.”
“Tragically he began to exit his vehicle to move the tire and he was gunned down in cold blood,” Smith said.
Bridegan was shot several times while Bexley was still strapped into a car seat in the back seat of his car.
The charges Fernandez Saldana is facing
Fernandez Saldana was arrested Thursday by ATF agents in Kissimmee. The operation was conducted by the Jacksonville Beach Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
“On behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, we are glad to contribute ATF’s expertise in violent crime investigations and forensics to provide answers to this tragic case. This is a solid example of great collaborative police work,” ATF Special Agent Bob Bryson said.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson said a Fourth Circuit Grand Jury returned the following indictments against Fernandez Saldana:
- First-degree murder: Punishable by death or mandatory sentence of life in prison
- Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder: Punishable by up to 30 years in prison
- Solicitation to commit a capital felony: Punishable by up to 30 years in prison
- Child abuse: This charge stems from the fact that Bridegan’s then-2-year-old daughter Bexley was directly in harm’s way during the shooting, Nelson said
Fernandez Saldana’s arrest warrant originally listed a charge of second-degree murder with a weapon.
Florida law requires a grand jury indictment to upgrade charges to first-degree murder. Assistant State Attorney Christina Stifler presented the case concurrent with the Tenon plea and Fernandez-Saldana arrest to upgrade the charges to first-degree prior to today’s announcement, the State Attorney’s Office said.
Nelson said if the state does decide to seek the death penalty against Fernandez Saldana, it will be announced within the 45 days after he is arraigned.
Fernandez Saldana is being represented by Jacksonville-based attorney Jesse Dreicer, the State Attorney’s Office said.
The first arrest in Bridegan’s murder
In January, authorities announced the first arrest in connection to Bridegan’s murder.
Henry Tenon, 61, was arrested and charged with the following crimes:
- Conspiracy to commit murder - Tenon didn’t act alone in the crime
- Accessory after the fact to a capital felony
- Child abuse - Because Bridegan’s then-2-year-old daughter Bexley was directly in harm’s way during the shooting, Nelson said
- Second-degree murder
Nelson said Tenon entered a plea of guilty to second-degree murder with a weapon Thursday morning in Bridegan’s murder.
Investigators discovered that the single link between Bridegan and Tenon was Fernandez Saldana. Action News Jax told you in January that Tenon rented a Jacksonville house that belonged to Fernandez Saldana.
As part of Tenon’s plea agreement with the state, he has agreed to testify truthfully against those he worked with in Bridegan’s murder, including Fernandez Saldana.
“Tenon’s cooperation has both corroborated evidence collected during the investigation and provided additional evidence against Mario Fernandez Saldana for his role in the planning and execution of Jared’s murder,” Nelson said.
Tenon has also admitted that he was the one who fatally shot Bridegan, Nelson said.
A court status hearing for Tenon originally scheduled for March 21 will no longer happen. His next status hearing is scheduled for June 14, the State Attorney’s Office said.
Limited details from Fernandez Saldana’s arrest warrant
According to Fernandez Saldana’s arrest warrant, which is heavily redacted, a review of Tenon’s financial records showed “three handwritten checks were discovered from Fernandez Saldana.”
Phone records also “showed that Tenon and Fernandez Saldana had 35 phone contacts in February, 30 phone contacts in March, and 5-9 phone contacts in May and June.”
Statements that Tenon made to authorities have been redacted from the warrant since the investigation is still ongoing, Nelson said.
Nelson was asked if more arrests would be coming in the case. She said, “At this time, I’m not going to answer that question.”
Nelson was also asked who owned the gun and what the motive was for murdering Bridegan, but she said she could not answer those questions at this time since the investigation is still active.
“We remain committed to the seek the truth — the entire truth — and holding accountable every individual involved in the murder of Jared Bridegan,” Nelson said.
SEE FERNANDEZ SALDANA’S ARREST WARRANT BELOW:
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Reaction to the arrest from Bridegan’s widow
Kirsten Bridegan, Jared Bridegan’s widow, read the following statement during the announcement of Fernandez Saldana’s arrest:
“We are here today feeling many emotions. We are have great relief knowing that two of the people behind my husband’s murder are now behind bars and are no longer a threat to our family. We are also still angry, angry that they were walking free while we were grappling with the reality that Jared wouldn’t be here for any future memories, vacations or tender moments with our kids. Angry that our youngest, who was six months at the time of his death, will have no memories of her father. Angry that there will be no new memories for Liam, Abby, Bexley, London, or anyone who knew and loved Jared. We have fought hard for the truth and the world now knows what we have known all along, that Jared truly was an innocent victim. Since Day 1, those in charge of the investigation have promised us that they would be relentless in their pursuit of accountability and justice, and they have been. We are grateful to the State Attorney’s Office, Jacksonville Beach Police Department, the ATF and any other agencies that have been involved in this investigation. Justice for Jared will not be stopped and we will not be silenced. We know there is still a long way to go before all those responsible are truly held accountable, but today is a very significant day for our family. Thank you.”
Where is Bridegan’s ex-wife?
In January, Fox News Digital reported that Shanna Gardner-Fernandez quietly uprooted her 10-year-old twins with Bridegan and relocated to West Richland, Washington.
Gardner-Fernandez, who also goes by Gardner, told Action News Jax in a June 2022 interview that despite everything her family has been through, they had no intention of leaving Jacksonville Beach.
Gardner-Fernandez and Bridegan divorced in 2016 — but they continued to battle over finances and custody of the twins in family court until his death. At the time of Bridegan’s death, the two shared equal custody of their twins, Fernandez Saldana’s arrest warrant said.
According to Fernandez Saldana’s arrest warrant, he met Gardner-Fernandez in 2018 at her CrossFit gym, where Fernandez Saldana worked as a maintenance man.
Previously, Jacksonville Beach police had not identified Gardner-Fernandez or her husband as suspects.