DANVILLE (KPIX) – An East Bay family and their friends are devastated over the death of Ari Gershman who was ambushed by a gunman while on a father-and-son off-road trip in Sierra County. His 15-year-old son survived the harrowing ordeal, and a suspect is in custody.

The killing is especially hard because Gershman’s wife Paige was just diagnosed with Hodgkins-Lymphoma just two months ago, The family says that is part of the reason why Ari wanted to get the Jeep.

“Ari had stacks of books on his desk with different maps and books and trails and where he wanted to go and what he wanted to see. He felt like this was something he could share with the kids,” says Gershman’s cousin Marlo Meyers-Barer.

He got the Jeep to go on adventures with his family while keeping his family safe from COVID-19, especially his wife who is going through chemo and is immuno-compromised.

It all unfolded Friday morning, when Gershman took his middle son, Jack, up to the backroads outside Downieville. The pair stopped at a fork in the road to look at a map, when the gunman came up behind them.

“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 of the Jeep,” said Meyers-Barer.

Jack told his mom he ran through the woods for over an hour trying to get away from the gunman and until he could get cell phone service.

“Jack is sending texts to Paige saying, ‘I need you to fight cancer,’ ‘I need you to be OK,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it out of here,’” said Meyers-Barer.

Jack was lost in the woods for a day-and-a-half and was eventually rescued after sheriff’s deputies were able to track his cell phone signal.

According to sheriff’s deputies, the suspect tried to run over officers at high-speed on a utility terrain vehicle and fled towards Downieville. The UTV collided with another officer. After an exchange of gunfire and deployment of a K-9 dog, the suspect was taken into custody and transported to a hospital.

The suspect has been identified as John Thomas Conway of Oroville, according to authorities.

The family is now home in Danville, asking themselves the unimaginable question of ‘why?’

“I think this was a horrible tragedy that doesn’t make sense and it’s senseless,” says Meyers-Barer.

According to his family, Ari was an internal medicine doctor who worked for biotech companies helping to develop lifesaving new medicines. He leaves behind his wife and three children, 16, 15 and 10.

“He dedicated his life to them, and helping other people. I mean, that was his whole career, his profession, and everybody who met him, loved him.”

Meantime, Conway is also accused of shooting two other people before shooting the Gershmans. They are expected to recover.

So far, investigators have no motive in the attacks.

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