The afternoon was typical yet exciting — Thanksgiving was almost here, and Jamie Billquist and his wife, Rosemary, would take part in a favorite of their traditions: the Turkey Trot.
Rosemary, 43, got home from work about 5 p.m., and left shortly after to walk the couple’s dogs, Stella and Sugar, near the field behind their home in New York’s Chautauqua County, the state’s westernmost county. Jamie, 47, stayed home, watching television.
A little while later, the dogs came racing to the back of the house, barking loudly. Jamie panicked. He called Rosemary’s cellphone, but she didn’t pick up.
“I thought, ‘Something might’ve happened to Rosemary,’ ” he said. “Maybe she fell.”
As he put down his phone, ambulances pulled up outside the house. An EMT who is a friend of Jamie’s rushed to the field, saying someone had been shot.
Moments later, Jamie learned that someone was his wife.
A neighbor, Thomas B. Jadlowski, thought he saw a deer in his backyard 200 yards away and fired a single shot. Then he heard a scream. Realizing he had shot a person, he ran out to help, according to the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office.
Jadlowski, 34, called 911 and applied pressure to Rosemary’s wound until paramedics arrived, according to the sheriff’s office. The bullet had traveled through her hip and out her back, Jamie said. He rode with his wife to a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, about a half-hour from the couple’s home in Sherman, New York. Rosemary was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“That’s it,” Jamie said with a heavy sigh. “My life has changed. Things are never going to be the same.”
Jadlowski has not been charged and has been cooperating with investigators, officials said. The case will be reviewed by the Chautauqua County district attorney’s office, which will determine whether Jadlowski will face criminal charges.
The shooting occurred less than an hour after sunset, at a time when it’s illegal to hunt; Jadlowski used a single-shot handgun permissible for deer hunting, officials said.
Shooting after hours and not identifying a target correctly is dangerous, said Dale Dunkelberger, master instructor for firearms for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s hunter education program.
“Hunters have to understand there are other people using trails, using parks in areas where we as sportsmen hunt,” Dunkelberger told the Buffalo News.
“In this case, it appears from what I gathered this was after sunset, and he shouldn’t have been out there hunting after sunset,” Dunkelberger said. “You’re done. That’s the law.”
Jadlowski could not be reached for comment.
Jamie still has many questions about the shooting.
“I’m not a hunter, but the law is that [after sunset] is when you’re supposed to be done,” Jamie said. “Supposedly it was 200 yards away. He thought it was a deer, which is hard for me to believe. If you don’t know what it is, why shoot?”
Now, Jamie isn’t sure how to move on without Rosemary, who he met at a mall in 1990.
“I thought she was a beautiful person,” Jamie said. “We decided years ago we didn’t want kids. Just free spirits, I guess, kind of enjoying life and having fun.”
The Billquists had planned to run in the YMCA Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. That morning, Jamie opened up Facebook, which sent him a reminder of the photos he took with Rosemary at last year’s event. He wore a pointy Santa hat; she wore a giant grin.
Instead, Jamie spent Thanksgiving planning Rosemary’s funeral, wondering how to best commemorate her.
“We always had fun. Just together, or with the dogs. There were so many thousands and thousands of fun stories,” he said.
Like the time Rosemary went out on her lunch break while working at WCA Hospital in Jamestown, New York, and saw a man struggling to stand in the hospital parking lot as he waited for a ride. So she decided to install a bench in front of the hospital. She etched a quote onto it: “In a world where you can be anything . . . be kind.”
Jamie remembers Rosemary coming home from work one day, exclaiming, “Three more people sat on that bench!”
“She was a private person,” he said. “She did things from the heart. She didn’t want people saying, ‘Oh, good job.’ That just wasn’t like her.”
Now, the bench is covered with tea lights and flowers.
Dozens of friends and family members gathered for a vigil Thursday, singing and praying.
“She touched a lot of lives, she did,” Jamie said, recalling how Rosemary would go out of her way to say hello to people at the hospital, “just to brighten up their day for a second.”
“She was definitely an angel,” he said. “That’s for sure.”