BERKELEY, Calif. (CBS News) — When Paige Gershman received text messages from her son Jack on Friday, she said she thought he was sending her videos of scenery from a camping trip with his dad in California’s Tahoe National Forest. But the teen was reaching out with a far more harrowing message: Jack said his father, Dr. Ari Gershman, had been shot and killed by a gunman.
“I said, ‘Where’s Dad?’ And he’s like, ‘He’s been shot.’ And I said, ‘What do you — what do you even mean?'” Paige told CBS News.
Jack said his dad was shot by a man who they had asked for directions near Downieville, about two hours north of Sacramento.
“My dad suggested that we ask him for directions,” Jack recalled to CBS News. “The shooter pulls out a pistol and starts shooting … and then, after two or three shots, he was hit.”
The 15-year-old said he bolted from the car and took off into the surrounding woods near the “Poker Flat” area of Sierra County. He said he got lost and when he was finally able to call his mom, he barely had reception and his phone was running out of battery.
“When my phone died, I had really nothing to do, so I prayed,” he said.
Local authorities said it was more than 30 hours before, with the help of a K-9 tracking unit, they were able to locate Jack and reunite him with his family.
“We all just screamed and hugged and cried,” Paige said. “It was that relief, and we knew that he was okay, but then it was the reality that Ari was not.”
Later that day, law enforcement officers detained the suspected gunman, 40-year-old John Thomas Conway. The Sierra County Sheriff’s office said he’s suspected of shooting and wounding two other people in a separate attack. The motive for both shootings was still unknown on Thursday.
“I just hope he spends the rest of his miserable life in jail,” Jack said.
Dr. Gershman’s family is remembering a man they call “humble,” “smart” and “generous.”
“He was all about helping others, and just so funny and kind,” Paige said. “He’s just my best friend.”
Paige said police are going to ask Jack to look at a lineup on Thursday.
She’s now a single mother not just to him, but to her 16-year-old son, Evan, and 10-year-old daughter, Maci. She’s also undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
A GoFundMe page to support the family has raised more than $430,000, as of Thursday morning.