On July 3, 2020, Ari Gershman, a physician and pharmaceutical executive from Danville, California and his teenage son, Jack, set off for a day of off-roading in the Tahoe Forest. Their destination was 170miles away and it would take them just over three hours to get there. Ari had just bought a Jeep Rubicon and the father and son could not wait to try it out. Ari had always dreamed of retiring in the area and loved to take his kids, aged 10, 15 and 16, on outdoor adventures. Tragically, this would be his last.
The pair soon found themselves near the Poker flat region and unfamiliar with the area, they considered asking for directions along a dirt road, where they suddenly noticed a blue utility terrain vehicle close behind them that neither of them had spotted before. Ari and Jack had no idea that the other motorist, 40-year-old John Conway, was behind the wheel. Armed and out for violence, Conway, a wanted felon, shot Ari Gershman in the chest.
“My dad suggested that we ask him for directions” the teenager later told CBS news. “The shooter pulls out a pistol and starts shooting. After two or three shots he was hit”.
Ari managed to pull over and park the car before falling out of the driver-side door and dying from his injuries.
Fifteen-year-old Jack flung open the passenger side door and ran for his life, pulling out his cell phone to contact the local authorities, only to realize he had no signal. Jack knew he had to get higher and ran into the forest until he finally reached a point where he had signal. The panicked teenager explained to the despatcher that his father had been shot and asked for assistance. He was told to sit tight and that a helicopter was on its way. While he waited, he sent a series of messages to his mother, reporting the devastating news.
“Where’s dad?” She asked Jack.
“He’s been shot.”
“What do you mean?”
Jack’s phone was low on battery and soon powered off.
“When my phone died, I had nothing to do, so I just prayed” he later said.
The Sierra County Sheriff's Office began a search of the area for both Jack and the suspect.
The teenager could hear help in the distance but due to the terrain the helicopter was unable to reach him. Soon darkness fell over the forest and the shocked and exhausted boy could not help drifting in and out of consciousness while he prayed for the authorities to find him. His sleep was interrupted by dreams of rescue and the phantom chopping of helicopter blades and his skin itched and burned from the feeding frenzy the mosquitoes were having on his bare arms and legs. He knew his siblings and mother, Paige, were likely in a state of despair and in the pit of his stomach he could not help but worry the killer would appear from nowhere just like he had done earlier in the ATV.
Finally, over 30 hours later, rescue came in the form of a police search-party and a K-9 unit. They found Jack Gershman in good physical condition with no injuries.
“We all just screamed and hugged and cried” his mother would later recall in an interview with CBS news. Paige Gershman had been fighting cancer for several months when she received the news that her husband had been shot and her son was lost in the woods.
“It was a relief when we knew he was okay but then it was the reality that Ari was not” she said, fighting back tears.
The suspect, John Conway, had been hospitalized in Chicago with a bullet wound to the chest. He had been apprehended by police after attempting to mow down a California Department of Fish and Wildlife officer before driving into a police checkpoint on Saddleback Road. The 40-year-old was a resident of Honcut, a small community near Butte County, around 100 miles from the scene of the crime. At the time of the murder he had two warrants out for his arrest. Media outlets report that he was wanted for battery, vandalism and two incidents of terroristic threats and was featured as one of Butte Counties most-wanted felons just a year prior in August 2019. His mugshot, showing a Caucasian male with a shaved head and blue eyes, began to circulate as well as details of his criminal history. Conway had no connection to the Gershman family, and the incident is believed to be a random act of violence. The suspect reportedly rammed into the side of another officer’s vehicle at a checkpoint down the road in Downieville ending in a shootout. KRCR News reported Conway was shot, treated and taken into custody.
Two other individuals were shot in the area that day in a separate incident and were airlifted to a nearby hospital where they are reported as being in a stable condition with non-life-threatening injuries. It is believed that John Conway was on a killing spree the day that he killed Ari Gershman. His motives are at this stage unknown but a statement released in July states Conway has been charged with attempted murder, murder, the unlawful discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle, possession of a firearm and burglarizing a gold mine. There are reportedly several gold mines for sale in the area that have not yet been completely mined, the details of Conway’s crime are, at this stage, unknown.