A California teenager has been rescued after spending more than 20 hours hiding in the woods from a gunman accused of killing the boy's father.
Dr. Ari Gershman had taken his 15-year-old son Jack on an off-road trip near Poker Flat in Sierra County Friday when the pair encountered a man driving an ATV who opened fire at them — striking and killing Gershman and sending Jack fleeing into the woods.
“The man out of nowhere started shooting at the Jeep,” Gershman’s cousin Marlo Meyers-Barer said on social media according to The San Francisco Chronicle. “Ari stepped on the gas to get out of harms way, but one of the shots ripped through the seat and hit him. He was able to get the Jeep stopped so Jack was able to run into the forest to hide.”
The teen was able to place a call to 911 and his mom alerting them to the dangerous situation before his cell phone battery ran out — sparking a massive search to find the teen.
The Sierra County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call on July 3, 2020 around 4 p.m. from two people who said they had been shot by a gunman on an ATV in the Poker Flat area of Sierra County.
“Neither victim knew the shooter, and the act appeared to be a random act of violence,” the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Authorities were able to transport both victims — who suffered non-life-threatening injuries — out of the forest, before they received a third call from 15-year-old Jack, who reported that his father had been shot to death and he was running for his life in the forest.
Jack was also able to place a short call to his mom Paige around 5:30 p.m. that night.
“Dad’s been shot and I think he’s dead and I’m running away, uphill and I don’t know where I am,” Meyers-Barer told the paper of what the teenager said in the call.
His mother, 16-year-old brother Evan and Meyers-Barer quickly raced to Downieville — a four-hour trip from the family’s home.
Meyers-Barer told the paper that Paige began to receive other text messages her distraught son that had been sent hours earlier but were only getting delivered now while they were en route.
“He said he was cold, lost, hungry and thirsty and didn’t know where he was,” Meyers-Barer said. “He said he was sorry and to tell his brother and sister he loved them. And he loved his mom. It was gut-wrenching.”
After receiving the 911 call from the teen, the sheriff’s office launched a large-scale search effort in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, California Highway Patrol, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Grass Valley Police Department, and aid from surrounding counties to find the 15-year-old, authorities said.
Helicopters from the California Highway Patrol, Washoe County, Nevada, and Placer County Sheriff’s Office were also used to try to spot the teen.
Authorities continued to search through the night and into the next day until they found him Saturday afternoon.
“Although the juvenile had fled a considerable distance, the officers were able to track and locate him,” the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities described Jack as being in “good physical condition” when he was discovered and were able to reunite him with his mother, who was anxiously waiting at a nearby sheriff’s office.
“He clung onto Paige,” Meyers-Barer said of the emotional reunion. “A five-minute hug.”
Meyers-Barer told local station KGO Jack looked as though he had just come off the show “Survivor” and was completely covered in scratches and bug bites.
“We were just so happy to see him. And now we just have to figure out how we get through this as a family,” Meyers-Barer said.
Shortly after the teen was found, the suspect was spotted by wildlife officers driving an ATV “at high speed.”
Two officers, who were maintaining a check-point at the time, attempted to stop the ATV and a third officer began driving up the hill to block the suspect’s ATV. The man was later identified as 40-year-old John Thomas Conway.
Authorities said “a vehicle collision ultimately occurred” while authorities were trying to take the man into custody.
“The suspect immediately represented a threat to the officers, leading to an officer-involved shooting and deployment of a K-9,” the sheriff’s office said.
Conway was taken into custody and transported to the hospital to receive medical treatment. It’s not clear what charges he will be facing and contact information was not immediately available.
Meyers-Barer said Ari had bought a new Jeep to go off-roading and explore the outdoors with his children the day before the shooting.
“There was no confrontation with my cousin. There was no trespassing, there was no ‘anything,’” Meyers-Barer later told KGO. “It was completely random and senseless. They were in the Tahoe National Forest in Poker Flats. That’s the first place he wanted to go with that Jeep.”
The weekend tragedy isn’t the only hardship dealt to the family this year. Meyers-Barer said Paige was also just diagnosed with cancer about 6 weeks ago and is currently undergoing chemo.
“She’s in the thick of the chemo, fighting for her life, and then here we are,” she said.
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