Deborah Pearl was driving to work Saturday morning through the local streets of Solon, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb so serene that Money magazine last year named it one of the top 10 places to live in the United States.
It was just after 7 a.m. when the 53-year-old mother of three cruised through an intersection and a man in a sport-utility vehicle ran a red light, slamming into the driver’s side of Pearl’s Ford Taurus, police reports would later say.
The intensity of the crash caused Pearl’s car to skid across the intersection and the SUV to roll several times until it came to a rest flipped upside down, police reports said.
Both drivers survived; somehow, the man in the SUV was able to walk out of his now-overturned vehicle.
And that is where the tragedy begins.
According to a woman who witnessed the accident, the man emerged from his Jeep carrying a rifle, Cleveland.com reported.
Police and other officials would later identify the man as a former U.S. Marine, one who had been deployed to Iraq twice.
The female witness, who gave a written statement to the police, told Cleveland.com what happened was so traumatizing that she did not want to be named.
Rifle in hand, the driver of the SUV walked toward Pearl and — as she held her hands up — shot her several times, the woman told the news site.
“I can’t get her screams out of my head,” she told the site.
Several people in the area appeared to have witnessed the accident. Another woman, Jamirra Brabson, heard four shots, then a woman scream, before three more rounds of at least three shots, the site reported.
“Then it was just silence,” Brabson told the site.
At 7:21 a.m., an area resident called 911, breathless and distraught, to report the accident and the shooting.
“There’s a man walking around with an AK-47, shooting all over the place! Corner of Richmond and Solon,” the woman said, according to a recording of a 911 call provided by Chagrin Valley Dispatch. “… Or a large rifle like that, yes. Please hurry!”
The woman told the dispatcher the man was pacing up and down the road with his rifle, at some point coming up to her driveway. Sounding close to tears, she begged the dispatcher to send help quickly.
Solon police said they found Pearl lying in the road with several gunshot wounds and took her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead about 8:18 a.m.
The driver of the SUV, 29-year-old Matthew Ryan Desha, was taken into custody. Police said they found a Stag Arms AR-15 rifle in his possession.
A military spokeswoman confirmed to The Washington Post that Desha served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008, and was deployed to Iraq twice during that time.
According to his military personnel file, Desha was a private who served as a mortarman.
“Word’s can’t explain what we’re going through,” Pearl’s son Derryo Pearl told Cleveland.com. “This is the roughest patch a human being can go through. I’ve gone through tough times before, but it wasn’t like this.”
Derryo Pearl told the news site that his mother was on her way to work that morning at the South East Harley-Davidson dealership, less than 20 miles away from her home in Twinsburg, Ohio.
Her son told the site he credited his mother with raising her three children to become good parents of their own.
“She disciplined us when she needed to discipline us,” Derryo Pearl told the site. “She made us go to school every day. She worked hard and taught us that was the only way to succeed in life.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, Robert Murray and Timothy Young, who identified themselves as Pearl’s husband and another son, told The Post they did not want to talk about what happened but gave permission to use a photo of Pearl.
Desha has been charged with murder and was arraigned Monday via video appearance in Bedford Municipal Court.
He is being held on $1 million bail and will appear in court again Wednesday, according to court records.
Desha’s neighbor Kathleen Salvatore told WEWS News that the man struggled after his time in the Marines.
“He was also the kind of person that if someone was trying to mess with him, like a guy picking a fight with him, you’re going to get pummeled,” Salvatore told the station.
More than a dozen of Pearl’s relatives and family friends attended Monday’s arraignment, according to Cleveland-area media reports.
Bernita Ashford, one of Pearl’s relatives, could barely speak through her sobs as she talked to reporters Monday about the death of the family member they all called “Little Deb.”
“I’m angry because he did not have to kill her. It was no reason to kill her,” she said, Cleveland 19 News reported. “And shoot an innocent woman? Innocent! Defenseless! She survived the crash, and you murdered her! You murdered her! You murdered Little Deb! You took her away from us.”
The pain, Ashford told the station, was “like a stab in the heart. A stab in the family’s heart.”
Police have not yet determined a motive for the shooting and said they were not aware of any connection between Desha and Pearl. Solon police said their detectives and the Ohio attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Identification are investigating.
“I think the worst part of it was just really the absolute randomness of it,” Solon police spokesman Lt. Bruce Felton told The Post.
On Monday, South East Harley-Davidson posted a Facebook tribute to Pearl, referring to her as a “friend and family member.”
Pearl worked six days a week at the Original Harley Diner inside the dealership, where she often played gospel music, joked and danced as she cooked breakfast on the grill, her co-workers told WEWS News.
Renee Basler, an assistant manager there, told the station she knew something was wrong on Saturday morning when Pearl was late for work.
“Debbie was like clockwork,” she told the station through tears. “I’m going to miss my friend.”