A chance encounter near Downieville, Sierra County on July 3 ended with the murder of a Danville physician, his son lost after running into the Tahoe National Forest to escape the gunman, others wounded and a suspect in custody after he allegedly attempted to flee sheriff’s deputies on a Utility Terrain Vehicle.
On Tuesday, Sheriff’s officials confirmed the identity of the suspected gunman as John Thomas Conway, 40, or Oroville. Conway is believed to be held in a local hospital after suffering a gunshot wound inflicted by an officer at the time of his capture.
Family friends Monday confirmed the shooting victim was Dr. Ari Gershman and said the doctor’s 15-year-old son – Jack – apparently spent more than 30 hours alone and lost in the forest after fleeing the unprovoked gunfire. The father and son were spending the day off-roading in the physician’s new four-wheel drive Jeep, according to friends.
A sheriff’s spokesman in Sierra County referred reporters to a Facebook post supporting most of the facts as given by family friends, who described the act as a “random, unprovoked” killing.
The incident unfolded around 4 p.m. Friday afternoon when family members said the unidentified gunman was caught rummaging through a camper’s belongings and, when discovered, immediately shot that camper without provocation. He went to a second, nearby campsite and ran into a woman looking for her dog, and then shot her. Both of those victims were transported by car to the nearest main road by their families, and then by helicopter to the hospital.
Immediately following those two shootings, family members said, the gunman came upon Ari and his son Jack on the 4×4 trail, shooting at them without provocation at least three times with an unknown type weapon. Gershman was fatally wounded, but was able to stop his Jeep – thus giving his son time to escape according to family members – before succumbing to his injuries almost immediately.
One of several police agencies involved (several nearby sheriff offices, CHP and state emergency services) ultimately found Jack Gershman late afternoon Sunday, after deploying ground and air searches along with drones and tracking dogs.
Shortly after locating the juvenile, the suspect approached two CDFW wildlife officers and a USFS officer at high speed in the UTV. The officers were maintaining a checkpoint on Saddleback Road and attempted to stop the vehicle. The suspect failed to stop and tried to run over the two wildlife officers and then fled south on Saddleback Road towards Downieville.
A third wildlife officer was positioned down the road in Downieville and started driving up the hill to block the suspects’ vehicle. A vehicle collision ultimately occurred as officers were attempting to take the suspect into custody. The suspect immediately represented a threat to the officers, according to police, leading to an officer-involved shooting and deployment of a K-9. The suspect was taken into custody, and after receiving medical treatment at the scene, he was transported to the hospital.
No motive has yet been given for any of the shootings.
On their GoFundMe page, Friends said the doctor’s wife Paige is “in the fight of her life right now undergoing Chemo treatments for Cancer” and that she and the couple’s three children needed community support.
The GoFundMe page was built to help pay for funeral costs, chemotherapy treatments and doctors appointments, family counseling, and daily expenses, according to its originator.
With a state goal of $200,000 the page had raised $131,737 as of Monday night.
Anyone with information about the case can contact sheriff’s officials in Sierra County at 530-289-3700.