Shot as he cradled our baby

Cru­ellest killing ever

Real People - - CONTENTS - Jes­sica Ay­ers, 34, Panama City, Florida, USA

The house was small. Two lit­tle be­d­rooms, a tiny yard. The area was a lit­tle iffy, too.

But we didn’t have a lot of money to spend. And, more than any­thing else, we knew it was meant to be.

You see, it had been my hubby Justin’s child­hood home.

We’d been to­gether since I was 14. He was two years older, a long­haired heart-throb, the best gui­tarist I’d ever met. We sang to­gether, played to­gether, took our love nice and slow. We had 10 years of mak­ing mu­sic to­gether, even re­leas­ing an al­bum. Then, when I was 30 and full of long­ing to start a fam­ily, we’d wed.

And that’s when, by weird co­in­ci­dence, Justin’s boy­hood home had come on to the mar­ket. Now, it seemed like fate was telling us to put down a few roots. So, in we moved. The scruffy guy who lived in the house be­hind us took a bit of get­ting used to – he was al­ways act­ing strangely, shout­ing and hol­ler­ing. ‘Dog! Dog!’ he’d bel­low when we let our Jack Rus­sell, Axl, out to do his busi­ness.

But we set­tled in quickly, and, two months later, I was star­ing at a pos­i­tive preg­nancy test!

That night, as I heard Justin’s key in the door, I set out two glasses of non-al­co­holic grape fizz, propped the test up next to them, and hid.

I heard his gasp of joy and rushed out into his arms.

Dur­ing the next few months, we painted the nurs­ery and put the cot to­gether. When we found out the baby was a boy, we bick­ered over names, agree­ing fi­nally on Jaxon Ry­der.

Six days af­ter my due date, my wa­ters broke when I was out shop­ping with my mum. We rushed to the hospi­tal, phon­ing Justin as we went.

‘What do you need? What should I do?’ he gab­bled, fran­tic, as I told him to grab the bags and meet me there.

I won­dered how Justin would cope – he wasn’t great with blood. But, when con­trac­tions ripped through me, he stopped

flap­ping. His hand held mine firmly and he stroked my fore­head, mur­mur­ing, ‘You’re do­ing amaz­ing, keep go­ing.’

Then, when the time came to push, he watched as Jaxon’s head emerged. Rivers of tears flowed down his face.

‘Wow,’ Justin said, as they placed lit­tle Jax in my arms.

‘I love you… I love you both.’

We stayed in hospi­tal overnight, the three of us holed up in a lit­tle room to­gether – me feed­ing, and Justin log­ging the time and du­ra­tion of each feed.

At one point, we all curled up on the bed to­gether, and I thought, ‘This is what it feels like to be a fam­ily.’

Next morn­ing, we set off for home. I was barely able to walk be­cause of my stitches. As

I eased my­self into the car, ex­hausted, I was won­der­ing what on earth we’d let our­selves in for. First-time mum nerves, I guess.

But Justin clicked on the ra­dio and We Are The

Cham­pi­ons by Queen came on. It seemed like the per­fect theme tune for us. We looked at each other, and that look said, ‘We can do this.’

And so we brought our baby home to the house where Justin once grew up. I pic­tured fa­ther and son play­ing in the gar­den, Jax’s first gui­tar les­son.

We were dazed, ex­hausted, but full of hope.

I couldn’t wait to show our baby off to the fam­ily, so, when he was three days old, we in­vited ev­ery­one over, in­clud­ing Justin’s cousins, Shelby, Lori and his mum Tammy.

Oohs, aahs, cud­dles and chuck­les sounded as our beau­ti­ful boy was handed round… Justin beamed ev­ery time Jax lay in his arms.

Me and Justin were chat­ting when Lori an­nounced she was driv­ing into town to pick up a take­away.

‘I’ll go with you,’ Justin said, get­ting up.

And that’s when it hap­pened. A strange sound… A pop and a shat­ter­ing noise, like a light bulb blow­ing. In­stinc­tively, I looked over at Jax. Shelby had scooped him up. He was sleep­ing peace­fully.

It was a last mo­ment, a last heart­beat of hap­pi­ness.

And then, chaos.

‘We’re be­ing shot at!’ some­one cried, ter­ri­fied.

Then… ‘Justin!’

He was ly­ing on the ground. I started to move to­wards him. One of our guests tack­led me and dragged me across the hall to our bath­room. Shelby crawled af­ter us with Jax, still asleep.

Curled up against the wall in the bath­room, I heard Lori’s voice, cry­ing, ‘Wake up, Justin!’ Some­one else was call­ing 911. I thought, ‘I have to get to him!’

Ig­nor­ing the pull of my stitches, I crawled out on my belly.

I saw Justin’s legs splayed out at odd an­gles, his wrist bent strangely back un­der his arm. He didn’t look un­con­scious, he looked… No!

Stay­ing low to the ground, I felt for a pulse – des­per­ate, pan­ick­ing.

Mo­ments later, the am­bu­lance ar­rived, and Lori dragged me into the bed­room while the paramedics set to work.

I prayed and prayed. But, all the time, I knew…

A po­lice of­fi­cer walked into the room. I shook my head, backing away from him as he said four bleak words.

‘Your hus­band is de­ceased.’ Ev­ery­thing went blank and I couldn’t think, couldn’t feel. They put a sheet over Justin and took him away – the love of my life who, half an hour ear­lier, had been coo­ing over our new­born baby.

He’d had three days of be­ing a fa­ther. Now he was gone, aged 33. Later, a po­lice of­fi­cer told me what had hap­pened.

Our odd neigh­bour, Charles Shisler – the shouty one – had been ar­rested af­ter fir­ing a gun in his house round the back from ours. One sin­gle shot that streaked 200ft through his win­dow, down our gar­dens, past trees, through our win­dow and into the side of Justin’s head. A one-in-a-mil­lion chance. As the days passed, I slipped into dark­ness. I stum­bled through the fu­neral – lis­tened to our friends play Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door with a hol­low numb­ness. Mu­sic had died for me – there was no plea­sure left.

Stand­ing in the shower af­ter­wards, I re­alised this was the first time any­one had left me alone since it hap­pened. I sank to the floor and rested my cheek against the cool tiles for hours as the fam­ily pan­icked out­side, beg­ging me to come out. I wanted to die.

‘Jess, please.’

Mum’s voice.

‘Jax needs feed­ing – we’re send­ing some­one to the store to buy for­mula.’ Jax.

I had to choose. Life or death. Live on in grief, or leave my baby son alone in the world.

Lifting my body off the floor and un­lock­ing the door was so hard. But, as Jax latched on hun­grily, I knew I had to sur­vive.

Over those next months,

I was noth­ing but Jax’s life sup­port. I sold the house and stayed with my par­ents – I couldn’t face go­ing back.

Ev­ery piece of news about Charles Shisler pulled me fur­ther into the dark­ness. Shisler, 62, pleaded guilty to man­slaugh­ter, pos­ses­sion of a firearm by a felon and drug charges.

At the time of the shoot­ing, he was high on metham­phetamine, and ini­tially told po­lice that the gun had gone off when he picked it up by the trig­ger.

‘The damn gun doesn’t usu­ally shoot,’ he’d told them. ‘You have to squeeze the hell out of it.’

But bal­lis­tics re­ports said his story didn’t make sense.

I had to ac­cept that I’d never re­ally know ex­actly what Shisler had done – and that filled me with even more anger and grief.

At sen­tenc­ing, I looked him in the eye as I gave a state­ment.

‘I lost my hus­band, my best friend, my mu­sic part­ner, my soul­mate, fa­ther of my son and the love of my life in an in­stant,’ I said, strug­gling to keep my voice strong. ‘And I never even had a chance to say good­bye.’ Shisler was sen­tenced to 14 years. It seemed so lit­tle, af­ter he’d shat­tered our fam­ily. But, look­ing at Jax crawl­ing, laugh­ing and smil­ing, I re­alised it wasn’t enough just to ex­ist as ‘Jax’s mum’. I had to let go of the anger and find my­self again. And that meant let­ting mu­sic back into my life.

An old friend of ours said his band was look­ing for a singer. ‘I’ll do it,’ I said.

I cried all the way to that first gig, es­pe­cially when I saw the set list. What’s Up?, by 4 Non-blondes, was a song me and Justin used to sing to­gether.

But, as I belted out the song and the au­di­ence re­sponded, I felt a sense of be­long­ing I thought I’d lost. This is where I was meant to be. Four years af­ter los­ing Justin, mu­sic is still my life. I stopped tour­ing with the band when Jax got too big to tag along, but I’m still play­ing lo­cally. I also started writ­ing and blog­ging.

And I’ve met a won­der­ful new man – Don Hogg, 42.

But I will al­ways love Justin. I see him ev­ery day in Jax’s sense of hu­mour, in the way he walks, and I feel it pull in my chest ev­ery time ‘our song’, When You Say Noth­ing At All,

comes on the ra­dio.

The day Justin died, we’d truly had ev­ery­thing we wanted.

Then I lost it all, with one stray bul­let. And I’ll never un­der­stand how that could be.

The last heart­beat of hap­pi­ness…

Al­ways to­gether, mu­sic was a shared pas­sion

Me and Justin had met in our early teens In­sep­a­ra­ble, we got mar­ried in 2003

Justin was bowled over by our lit­tle Jax Our fam­ily was fi­nally com­plete – we were so happy Drug-ad­dled agent of death, Charles Shisler

Our son, Jax, brings his dad back to life for me

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