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Washington County shooting death shocks communities

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy speaks during a press conference
Image capture by WAMC
YouTube/Washington County Sheriff's Office
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy speaks during a press conference

A young woman from upstate New York was killed Saturday after the car she was riding in turned into the wrong driveway. Officials say the homeowner came to the door and fired a gun at the vehicle.

Police say Kaylin Gillis was killed while searching for a friend’s house in a rural stretch of Washington County, New York.

Sheriff Jeff Murphy spoke to reporters on Monday.

“The first call came in at 9:53 p.m. on Saturday night. It was a 911 call reporting that a 20-year-old female had been shot.”

Murphy said when the vehicle carrying Gillis and three friends turned down the wrong driveway, 65-year-old Kevin Monahan came to the door and fired twice at the vehicle. He is being held at a nearby jail on second degree murder.

Murphy said he did not think there was any interaction between Monahan and the people he shot at, adding Monahan was uncooperative with investigators who responded to the incident.

“This is a very sad case of some young adults that were looking for a friend’s house and ended up at this man’s house, who decided to come out with a firearm and discharge it.”

Hebron, where the shooting took place, is a small town on the Vermont border.

Town Supervisor Brian Campbell said he was dumbfounded by the incident. He said he knew Monahan, a local contractor, as “normal as can be.”

Campbell said it’s very easy for people to get lost on the back roads of the small community, where cell service is spotty at best.

“You don't know how many times I've been awakened early in the morning [by] people lost, run out of gas, over a ditch, you go tow them out, put them on their merry way. You never think of your own safety even,” said Campbell. “If someone is pounding on the door, you figure you need to help them. You don’t think this is going to be a situation. So I’m just fully taken aback by it. It’s just not what our community is known for.”

The sheriff said after the shooting, the young people drove for several minutes to get cell service and call for help.

An online fundraiserthat quickly raised thousands of dollars features a photo of Gillis shared widely since the shooting.

Gregg Barthelmas, superintendent of the Schuylerville Central School District, where Gillis attended high school, knew Gillis personally.

“That picture of her speaks volumes to her character of how she was as student: very nice, very loving, and fun. Outgoing,” said Barthelmas.  

Bathelmas said Gillis was a cheerleader, a member of Future Farmers of America, and took art classes. As the school community comes together, he said the district is considering displaying Gillis’ artwork. Gillis leaves behind two younger siblings still in the district in 7th and 9th grades.

A statement from Gillis’ family says she was planning to begin college in Florida and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.

Schuylerville Mayor Dan Carpenter calls it a sad time for the village. He said he’s thinking of his own children in light of the tragedy.

“For someone who has a teenage daughter, myself, who drives, who is a new driver, you know, this kind of wakes me up to the dangers that we're all facing now today. I mean, you just make a wrong turn, you turn around someone's driveway, and you get shot. I mean, who could imagine that?”

Monahan’s attorney, Kurt Mausert, says three vehicles pulled into Monahan’s driveway and his client was frightened when he pulled the trigger.

“There were errors, there were misunderstandings that culminated in a tragedy. But the fact that we have a victim in a tragedy does not mean there’s a villain. Villian, to me, requires bad intent and my client, I don’t believe – the facts will show – that he had bad intent.”

Mausert also disputed the sheriff’s account of the incident and his contention that Monahan was uncooperative. Mausert says he was on the phone with his client and police during the incident.

“And someone who says, ‘I need to talk to my lawyer and I don’t want to talk to you without my lawyer,’ that’s uncooperative? That’s horseshit. Complete horseshit,” said Mausert.

Washington County DA Tony Jordan comments on shooting case
Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan speaks with WAMC's Lucas Willard about the shooting case and the international attention it is receiving. <br/>

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.