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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

New details emerge in deadly upstate NY shooting of woman in wrong driveway

A photo provided by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office shows Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy during a press conference in Fort Edward, N.Y., on April 17, 2023.

By Jesse McKinley, Hurubie Meko and Jay Root

The man who lived on the ridge above this little upstate town had long had a reputation among some residents as a sour character, prone to barking at neighbors’ dogs, scolding a local church and being so averse to unannounced visitors that he had at one time used a chain to cordon off his quarter-mile-long drive.

On Saturday night, just before 10 p.m., Kaylin Gillis and a group of her friends were traveling in a caravan of two cars and a motorcycle that mistakenly drove up that same driveway. They were looking for a friend’s house — and were met with gunfire that killed Gillis, 20.

It was warm, but overcast and dark, and the three vehicles, according to the county sheriff, turned off a highway, up the largely dirt road on which the man, Kevin Monahan, 65, lived, past several other homes.

They soon took a right turn into his drive, which is flanked by a tree with two worn “private property” signs, warning off trespassers, and a small “private drive” sign.

On Tuesday, a nearby resident, who declined to give his name because of the sensitivity surrounding the killing and the investigation, said he watched vehicles ascend the steep drive, their lights on, before seeing the motorcycle turn and start to descend.

Then, he heard a shot, followed by several seconds of silence. Then, a second shot rang out, although he and his wife initially believed it might have been fireworks.

“Our neighbor down the hill called and said, ‘Did you hear gunfire up there?’ ” the resident said. “And we said, ‘Oh, we heard something.’ ”

He said he immediately called 911. But in an indication of how difficult the area is to navigate, those police officers initially also went up the wrong driveway, so he called 911 again. “It’s hard to get your bearings unless you’re from here,” he said.

Gillis’ death shocked residents in the area and left the nation wondering at yet another seemingly senseless gun death.

Monahan was charged with second-degree murder in an attack the Washington County sheriff, Jeffrey J. Murphy, described as unprovoked and unexplained.

“There was no threat,” he said Tuesday. “They were leaving.”

The killing came just days after another shooting in Kansas City, Missouri, involving a Black 16-year-old, Ralph Yarl, who was shot by an 84-year-old white man after mistakenly going to the wrong house while trying to pick up his brothers at a friend’s home Thursday evening. He survived but was badly injured.

Unlike that case, what happened in Hebron did not have racial overtones: Gillis was white, and so is Monahan. But the aggression of the encounter and the idea that a simple wrong turn led to death nonetheless left many here and elsewhere shaken and wondering what prompted Monahan’s actions.

“I can’t imagine that this is something that someone who is my neighbor is capable of,” said Adam Matthews, who lives next to Monahan. “I don’t know what brings someone to that level.”

According to Murphy, Gillis was one of four people in the last vehicle to turn around and was sitting in the front passenger seat when Monahan shot through the rear of the driver’s side.

“They all were still in proximity to the house and they all heard two gunshots,” he said. “They realized immediately that she had been shot, so they were frantically leaving the driveway.”

The cars soon fled, desperately searching for cell service, a challenge amid the rolling hills and sparse populations of Washington County, which borders Vermont. They finally found a cell signal about 5 miles away, on a road adjacent to a local cemetery.

Monahan was initially uncooperative when police arrived, according to Murphy, who said Monahan had refused to speak with investigators and “obtained a lawyer that night before he came out of the house.”

But Monahan’s lawyer, Kurt Mausert, disputed the sheriff’s account of the shooting, saying Tuesday that the vehicles were speeding up the driveway, with engines revving and lights shining, which “certainly caused some level of alarm to an elderly gentleman who had an elderly wife.”

“Is that a fear-inducing scenario? Well maybe it is,” Mausert said. “It is not the simple scenario of these people took a wrong turn and within 20 seconds of them taking the wrong turn, this guy’s on his deck blasting away. That’s not what happened.”

Mausert added that Monahan “sincerely regrets this tragedy” and “feels terrible that there was a fatality,” but he scolded the sheriff for “basically acting as judge, jury and executioner.”

“When there’s a tragedy and a victim, everyone wants a villain,” he said. “But sometimes they’re just tragedies and victims and there are no villains. And this is one of those times.”

In an interview, Murphy said Gillis — a former competitive cheerleader, honor student and budding artist — was “a beautiful and kind soul” who had hoped to study marine biology.

“It’s just a tragic situation,” he said.

Albert Weils, a neighbor who lives three doors down from the Gillis family home in Schuylerville, about 25 miles southwest of Hebron, said Gillis’ father, Andy Gillis, is a corrections officer at Washington County Correctional Facility.

“We don’t think of stuff happening like that around here,” Weils said, adding, “It’s a total shame.”

The family was largely quiet Tuesday, and Gillis’ grandfather, Jack Amodeo, said they were huddled, trying to process the shooting. “It’s really brought us down to our knees,” he said.

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