DANVILLE (CBS SF) — The son and wife of a Danville doctor who was killed last week in a Sierra County ambush shooting recently spoke about the terrifying tragedy for the first time in an exclusive interview with CBS.
When Paige Gershman received text messages from her son Jack last Friday, she said she thought he was sending her videos of scenery from a Fourth of July holiday weekend trip with his dad in the Tahoe National Forest.
But the teen was reaching out with a far more harrowing message. Jack said his father, Dr. Ari Gershman, had been shot and killed by a gunman.
“I said, ‘Where’s Dad?’ And he’s like, ‘He’s been shot.’ And I said, ‘What do you… what do you even mean?'” remembered Paige.
“My dad suggested that we ask him for directions,” said Jack. “The shooter pulls out a pistol and starts shooting a few times. And after two or three shots, he was hit.”
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The 15-year-old said he bolted from the car and took off into the surrounding woods near the Poker Flat area of Sierra County.
Jack told CBS he got lost. When he was finally able to call his mom, he barely had reception and his phone battery was nearly out of power.
“When my phone died, I had nothing to do. So I prayed,” said Jack.
Local authorities said it was more than 30 hours before they were able to locate Jack and reunite him with his family.
“We all just screamed and hugged and cried,” said Paige. “It was that relief and we knew that he was OK. But then it was the reality that Ari was not.”
Later that day, law enforcement detained the suspected gunman, 40-year-old John Thomas Conway.
The Sierra County Sheriff’s Office said Conway is suspected of shooting and wounding two other people in a separate attack.
The motive for both shootings is unknown.
“I just hope he spends the rest of his life, miserable life, in jail,” said Jack Gershman.
Now Dr. Gershman’s family is remembering a man they called humble, smart and generous.
“He was all about helping others, and just so funny and kind,” his wife Paige said. “He’s just my best friend.”
Paige Gershman told CBS authorities will ask Jack to look at a suspect lineup to identify Conway Thursday. The now-widowed mother of three is currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. A GoFundMe account to support the family has already raised more than $455,000.
The alleged gunman Conway was wanted on two felony warrants at the time of the shooting.
Last year, he made the Butte County Sheriff’s Most Wanted List for charges including vandalism, battery and making terrorist threats. The Butte County District Attorney told CBS Conway had mental issues and was also battling addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol.