Wednesday was a typical afternoon but an exciting one — Thanksgiving was the next day, and Jamie Billquist and his wife, Rosemary, would partake in one of their favorite traditions: the Turkey Trot.
Rosemary Billquist, 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 Sherman, N.Y., house. Jamie Billquist, 47, stayed at home, watching television.
A little while later, the dogs came racing to the back of the house, barking loudly. Jamie Billquist 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 his phone down, ambulances showed up outside the house. An EMT who is a friend of Jamie Billquist’s rushed to the field, saying someone had been shot.
Moments later, he learned that it was his wife.
A neighbor, Thomas B. Jadlowski, thought he saw a deer in his back yard 200 yards away and fired a single shot. Then he heard a scream. Realizing he’d shot a person, he ran out to help, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office officials said in a news release.
Jadlowski, 34, called 911 and applied pressure to Rosemary Billquist’s wound until paramedics arrived, according to the sheriff’s office. The bullet had traveled through her hip and out her back, Jamie Billquist said. He rode with his wife to a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center facility in Erie, Pa., where she was pronounced dead.
“That’s it,” Billquist 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. Officials said the shooting occurred less than an hour after sunset, at a time when it’s illegal to hunt, according to the Associated Press.
Sheriff Joe Gerace told the Buffalo News that Jadlowski used a single-shot handgun permissible for deer hunting.
Dale Dunkelberger, master instructor for firearms for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s hunter education program, told the Buffalo News that shooting after hours and not identifying a target correctly is dangerous.
“Hunters have to understand there are other people using trails, using parks in areas where we as sportsmen hunt,” said Dunkelberger, who called Sherman his old hunting “stomping ground.”
“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 immediately reached for comment.
Jamie Billquist 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,” Billquist 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, Billquist is unsure how to move on without his wife. The holidays were always a celebratory time for them, as their birthdays were both in January, right after Christmas. They’d been together for 27 years, ever since they met at the Chautauqua Mall in Lakewood, N.Y., in 1990.
“I thought she was a beautiful person. Something drew me to her,” Billquist said of that day with a laugh. “We’ve been together ever since. . . . We decided years ago we didn’t want kids. Just free spirits, I guess, kind of enjoying life and having fun.”
The couple moved to Sherman in 2002 — Rosemary Billquist wanted to return to the town where she grew up. They rebuilt her family’s house on Armenian Road, which was significant to Rosemary, who had Armenian roots.
She was an avid runner who competed in marathons and triathlons. The Billquists had planned to run in the YMCA Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.
That morning, Jamie Billquist opened up Facebook, which sent him a reminder of the photos he took with his wife at last year’s event. He wore a pointy Santa hat; she wore a giant grin.
Instead, Billquist spent Thanksgiving planning his wife’s services, 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, N.Y., 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.”
Billquist remembers hauling the bench into their car and planting it in front of the hospital. He was in his work clothes and she wore a dress, he said.
He remembers her coming home from work some days, 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. Billquist posted a video on Facebook and wrote that the vigil “took his breath away.”
“She touched a lot of lives, she did,” he said, recalling how his wife 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.”