A father and son outing through California’s Tahoe National Forest took a horrifying turn this summer, when a gunman came “out of nowhere” and began firing at their Jeep.
Ari Gershman, a physician and pharmaceutical executive, was shot and fell out of the vehicle, but his 15-year-old son Jack was able to flee into the woods, where he’d hide for 30 hours before he was rescued by authorities.
Before the fatal shots rang out, Ari and Jack had stopped in an area of the national forest known as the Poker Flat Region around 9 a.m. on July 3, while off-roading to try to get their bearings. They noticed a blue ATV pulled up beside them “out of nowhere,” Jack told People in a new interview about the harrowing experience.
Ari decided to ask the stranger for directions but the exchange soon turned deadly.
“They turned around to ask him directions and the guy literally pulls out a gun and starts shooting at the Jeep, so Ari put it in drive and gunned it out of there, and was hit, and grabbed his chest and he managed to stop the Jeep, put it in park, Jack got out and ran, and Ari died right outside the Jeep,” Ari’s cousin, Marlo Meyers-Barer told local station KPIX-TV in July.
Jack — wearing only a T-shirt and shorts — retreated into the woods to try to find safety.
“I tried to call the police, but I still couldn’t get cell reception,” he told People. “So the main thing in my head was to just get away from that place, get cell reception and make sure the police find me.”
The teen was eventually able to call 911 and tell the dispatcher that his dad had been shot and he was hiding in the forest, according to a statement from the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office.
But Jack would spend a terrifying 30 hours lost and alone in the woods before authorities were able to find and rescue him on the afternoon of July 4.
“Although the juvenile had fled a considerable distance, the officers were able to track and locate him,” the sheriff’s office said, adding that he appeared to be in “good physical condition.”
As Jack hid in the woods, he was able to send a series of disturbing text messages to his mom, Paige. She had been expecting to receive beautiful photos of the scenery and instead got messages from her son telling her that her husband was dead.
“I said, ‘Where’s Dad?’ And he’s like, ‘He’s been shot.’ And I said, ‘What do you—what do you even mean?” she later recalled to CBS News.
Jack told the news outlet that after his phone died, he spent most of the time alone praying before authorities found him and were finally able to reunite him with his family.
“We all just screamed and hugged and cried,” Paige told CBS News. “It was that relief, and we knew that he was okay, but then it was the reality that Ari was not.”
Authorities said the suspected gunman — later identified as John Thomas Conway — had also shot two other people in the forest that day; he was apprehended after several wildlife officers who'd set up a roadblock saw him driving an ATV at a high speed through the forest.
One of the wildlife officers blocked off the ATV, leading to a collision. Officers opened fire and deployed a K-9 after Conway "immediately represented a threat to the officers," the sheriff's office said.
Conway, 40, was taken into custody and transported to the hospital. He's now facing charges of murder, attempted murder, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, unlawful discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle, burglary, and felon in possession of a firearm, according to a statement from Sierra County District Attorney Sandra A. Groven.
“I just hope he spends the rest of his miserable life in jail,” Jack told CBS News of his father’s suspected killer.
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