A Virginia firefighter is being hailed a hero after she died Thanksgiving night protecting her 5-year-old son from a hail of bullets.
Richmond Fire Department Lt. Ashley Nicole Berry was leaving the home of her boyfriend’s family after celebrating Thanksgiving when she was struck and killed by a gunman firing at a neighboring apartment, according to The Richmond Times Dispatch.
“We believe she was shielding her child,” Hopewell Police Chief Kamran Afzal told the paper. “That’s what I’d expect from [a first responder]. Firefighters and police officers give up their lives for other people and don’t even think twice about it.”
Berry’s father Waverly Berry said at a press conference Tuesday morning that his daughter’s “last act of love” had been to push her son down to the ground to protect him from the gunfire. He said he told his young grandson that same message in the emergency room of the hospital.
“[I told him] ‘Your mother’s last act of love, for you, was to push you down. [She pushed you down] for a reason,” he said according to WTVR. “The good thing is that God put his covering over you, so that we could still have you.”
Investigators don’t believe Berry, who was a mother of three, or her boyfriend’s family had been the intended target of the violence.
“She was not the intended target and neither was the house where she was at,” Afzal said. “The apartment next to it was the target. She was definitely at the wrong place at the wrong time ... and got hit by a stray round.”
Berry suffered “serious gunshot-related injuries” and was taken to two area hospitals for treatment before she was pronounced dead.
Authorities are now searching for the silver or gold SUV that was seen speeding away from the scene shortly after the gunfire broke out.
“Detectives are following up on strong leads and are trying to make the case,” Afzal told the local paper.
Berry, an eight-year veteran of the Richmond Fire Department, had been committed to her community, cofounding a women’s support group and saving lives as she ran into burning buildings as part of her job with the department.
"Ashley Berry was a true hero of our fire department,” said Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter said, according to WWBT. “She was a public safety hero, a public safety servant. Ashley crawled into burning homes to save and rescue others' lives. She led people into burning homes to save and rescue other people's lives. So today, we ask the community for their support in helping bring to justice those responsible for taking one of our family member’s lives."
Her boyfriend is also a firefighter with the department.
Berry’s family said her death has caused the family enough pain to last a lifetime.
“Ashley’s motherly instinct allowed her to protect her young son from the hail of gunfire, which in turn caused her to lose her life,” her cousin George Berry III said Tuesday. “She was a beloved mother of three and will forever be her children’s hero.”
Berry III said the family is now urging the person or persons responsible for her death to turn themselves in.
"To the person or persons who caused us this pain, we appeal to your consciousness to do the right thing and turn yourself in to the authorities," he pleaded.
Anyone with information about the shooting is urged to contact authorities.
A public vigil will be held at the Huguenot High School Thursday to remember Berry beginning at 5:30 p.m. A celebration of life will also be held on Saturday.
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