‘Dad was shot’: heartbreaking story of the tragic off-road trip of a Danville family

Ari Gershman took his 15-year-old son Jack to a popular off-road trail near Poker Flat in the Sierra on Friday, excited to drive the used red Jeep Rubicon he had bought the day before.

The novices were on trails they had only read about in the remote Tahoe National Forest when they stopped at a fork, not knowing which way to go. A man driving an ATV pulled up behind the couple and Gershman asked for directions, according to his cousin, Marlo Meyers-Barer, who spoke to The Chronicle and shared details on social media.

“The man out of nowhere started shooting at the Jeep,” wrote Meyers-Barer. “Ari stepped on the gas to get out of danger, but one of the shots went through the seat and hit him. He was able to stop the Jeep, so Jack was able to run into the woods to hide.

Danville’s 45-year-old doctor died on the spot and his son spent 30 hours alone and was lost in the dense forests, drinking from a stream, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt and covered in insect bites and scratches, before he was rescued. The alleged gunman, not yet named by the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office, was arrested shortly after Jack was found, following a police chase on his ATV. Moments before shooting Gershman, the man also allegedly shot and wounded two other nearby people who survived, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Officers detained the suspect Saturday along Saddleback Road, about a mile north of Highway 49 in the historic gold country where the claim holders are still mine. The Sierra County District Attorney’s Office said no charges had been filed until Tuesday morning.

It had already been a difficult year for the young Gershman family. His wife Paige, a speech and language therapist at a Danville preschool, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma six weeks ago and shaved her head last week, Meyers-Barer said.

Gershman, an internal medicine doctor, bought the Jeep to share his love of the outdoors with his two sons and daughter. He had hoped to retire to the Downieville area, according to a GoFundMe fundraising account that had raised more than $ 250,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.

An avid mountain biker and nature lover, Gershman had bought tons of off-road books and researched the Poker Flat area for a day trip.

“He loves going on these crazy adventures,” said Meyers-Barer.

The father and son left around 9 am Friday and Paige followed them on her phone, marveling at how they seemed to be in the “middle of nowhere,” the cousin said.

By Friday afternoon, Paige received good news. Her lab work returned with promising results and she texted her husband. As a doctor, she had meticulously monitored her progress, so she felt it was strange when she didn’t respond immediately, Meyers-Barer said.

The cousin, who lives in San Ramon, had just returned home Friday afternoon after leaving dinner at Danville’s house in Gershmans as part of a community-supported food train to help the family while Paige was fighting cancer, when he got a call from her. mother. Ari had been shot.

Paige had received a brief one-minute call around 5:30 pm from a breathless Jack: “Dad was shot and I think he’s dead and I’m running away, uphill and I don’t know where I am,” Meyers-Barer recalled.

He explained that it had taken him an hour to go upstairs to find a signal for his cell phone, which had dropped to 1% of the battery. He called 911 and then called his mother.

Meyers-Barer drove Paige and her 16-year-old son Evan to Downieville, a four-hour trip. The youngest daughter, Maci, was with a friend in Lake Tahoe.

As they drove, the text messages from Jack that he had sent hours earlier began to appear on his mother’s phone.

“He said he was cold, he was lost, hungry and thirsty and that he did not know where he was,” Meyers-Barer recalled. “He said he was sorry and that he told his brother and sister that he loved them. And he loved his mother. It was heartbreaking. “

Meyers-Barer tried to calm her cousin. Jack is smart, he will stay calm and find his way out. Her husband is a doctor, he will know what to do in that situation, she repeated.

Meige-Barer recalled that Paige vacillated between terror, confusion, sadness, and uncertainty. It worsened because the cell signal became uneven along the curvy mountain roads.

The family arrived around 11 p.m. Friday and found a nearly empty sheriff’s office when small staff were searching for the suspect and Jack. Finally, an officer gave him the news that Ari had died next to his Jeep and that they did not know where Jack was.

The family spent the next 24 hours glued to a police radio in the basement of the sheriff’s office.

The off-duty sheriff’s assistant, Autumn, provided updates and brought them food with her husband. Two chaplains sat with them, making sure to keep their distance from Paige and her weakened immune system. The small Downieville hotel gave them a room key if they needed to shower or rest. Someone left them groceries.

They learned from investigators that before shooting Gershman, the gunman had shot another person who confronted him by rummaging through his belongings. He jumped into an ATV and fled, shooting at a woman with her dog nearby, Meyers-Barer said.

After the man opened fire on the Jeep around 4:30 p.m., Gershman hit him and left. He put the vehicle in the park, allowing Jack to escape, and collapsed to the ground, Meyers-Barer said.

“(The shooter) had no connection to anyone,” he said. “It looks like he was a pyscho who thinks shooting someone is fun.”

Seekers brought in AT&T, which used satellites to track pings on Jack’s phone. Although the battery has no lifespan, the satellites could still pick up signals to triangulate its location and guide a group of 70 search engines. Through the police scanner, Meyers-Barer heard the search party announce that they were less than a half-mile from their location, and began yelling his name.

Meyer-Barer recalled, “I heard a young man,” creaked over the police scanner. She did not want to alert Paige because she was not sure, especially because they had not slept all night, because they had consumed Coca-Cola Light and sweets. But moments later, around 3:45 pm Saturday, Autumn came downstairs and yelled, “They found Jack!”

They all cried.

It took another five hours for authorities to remove Jack from the forest and interview him. While the family waited, they heard officers locate the gunman on police radio. Meyers-Barer recalled that he tried to run over an agent, and eventually they sent police dogs to arrest him.

Late Saturday, Jack, in his earthy white brown T-shirt, entered the sheriff’s station, where he was reunited with his mother.

“He held on to Paige,” Meyers-Barer recalled. “A five minute hug.”

In her social media post, Meyers-Barer called for the community to be friendly.

“I know the type of person who cares about other people like my cousin Ari,” he wrote.

Gershman spent his days on the job leading clinical trials for life-saving drugs at biotech companies. But he cared mainly for his wife and three children.

“He was an amazing guy, amazing guy, and this doesn’t make any sense,” said Meyers-Barer.

“They are trying to survive every day right now,” he said of the family. “We are all invading Paige and helping her discover how to live her life without her best friend.”

On Monday, her first day back, Paige returned to the hospital for her third round of chemotherapy.

Matthias Gafni is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @mgafni