A 20-year-old woman was shot and killed Saturday after she and three others accidentally turned into the wrong driveway while looking for a friend’s house in rural upstate New York, authorities said.
The woman, identified as Kaylin Gillis, was a passenger in a vehicle when a man, 65-year-old Kevin Monahan, fired two shots from his front porch, Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy said in a news conference Monday.
Blake Walsh, Gillis’ boyfriend, said he was driving the car the night they drove up the wrong driveway. He told NBC Tuesday in a phone interview that he, his late girlfriend, and two friends were looking for a party. Four friends were traveling in another vehicle and also went up the wrong driveway.
“We thought we were at the right address,” Walsh told NBC. “We didn’t have any cell service to figure it out. As soon as we figured out that we were at the wrong location, we started to leave, and that’s when everything happened.”
“My friend said, ‘They’re shooting — go!’ I tried to step on the gas as fast as I could, and that’s when the fatal shot (that struck Gillis) came through,” Walsh told NBC.
“I want to believe it was instant. I’m hoping it was. I’m praying it was,” he said.
The sheriff said the shooting happened in “a very rural area with dirt roads” and poor cell service.
“It’s a very rural area with dirt roads. It’s easy to get lost. They drove up this driveway for a very short time, realized their mistake and were leaving, when Mr. Monahan came out and fired two shots,” the sheriff said.
Monahan has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death, Murphy said. He was arraigned Sunday on the murder charge, his attorney told CNN. A bail hearing is pending for Tuesday or Wednesday, the district attorney and defense attorney both said.
Walsh said he plans to be in court. “I need to see who took my girlfriend away from me. I need to look at him.”
The shooting happened just days after a Black teenager in Kansas City was shot twice by a White homeowner after going to the wrong address to pick up his siblings.
In that case, Andrew Lester, 84, opened fire on 16-year-old Ralph Yarl as the teen stood at Lester’s front door before any words had been exchanged, according to a probable cause document obtained by CNN. Lester, who told police he thought the teen was trying to break in, faces two felony charges in a case that touches on so-called “stand your ground” laws, the proliferation of firearms and racial bias.
In the New York shooting, both Monahan and Gillis are White. No one is believed to have exited the car, and there was no interaction between Monahan and anyone in the vehicle before shots were fired, Murphy said.
“There was clearly no threat from anyone in the vehicle. There was no reason for Mr. Monahan to feel threatened,” Murphy said.
After the shots were fired, Gillis and the rest of the group drove away from the house in the town of Hebron looking for cell phone service and then called 911.
They were found around 5 miles away from the home in the nearby town of Salem. First responders began administering CPR but Gillis was pronounced dead at the scene, Murphy said.
“This is a very sad case of some young adults that were looking for a friend’s house and ended up at this man’s house who decided to come out with a firearm and discharge it,” the sheriff said.
Walsh told NBC the drive to find cell service did not feel like a 5-mile drive. “It felt like 30 seconds. The adrenaline was rushing so bad.”
Shooting suspect’s attorney offers different version of shooting
Monahan’s attorney, Kurt Mausert, disagreed with the sheriff’s description of events.
“This was not a simple case of coming up a driveway and turning around,” he told CNN. “The description I was given by my client is there were multiple vehicles, including a motorcycle, revving engines, coming up the driveway at a high rate of speed.”
Mausert said Monahan felt that “created an atmosphere and a fear that there was menace going on.”
The sheriff confirmed there were several vehicles traveling together – a car with two passengers; a car with four passengers, including Gillis and her boyfriend; and a motorcycle – driving up and down the street looking for an address.
He said witness accounts from inside the cars and forensics prove the shots were fired as the group exited the driveway. The car in which Gillis was a passenger was the last vehicle to turn around and leave, he said.
“I don’t know how they could menace anyone with those type of actions, but they were clearly leaving the residence when the shots were fired,” Murphy told CNN. He also said no 911 calls regarding loud noises coming from vehicles were reported by Monahan or neighbors.
After the shooting, police officers responded to Monahan’s home and found him to be uncooperative, Murphy said, adding he “refused to exit his residence to speak with police.”
He was taken into custody hours later with help from the New York State Police Special Operations Response Team, according to a press release from the Washington County Sheriff’s office.
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Murphy said Monahan had not made any statement about the shooting and obtained a lawyer before he came out of the house.
“(He), quite frankly, has not shown any remorse in this case,” he said.
However, Mausert pushed back against the notion that there was a standoff with police when he was asked to surrender.
Monahan had no idea that the bullets he fired had struck someone, and he called Mausert to report there were four sheriff’s deputies on his road and had “no idea” what they wanted, the attorney told CNN’s Brynn Gingras.
Mausert said he got in touch with law enforcement and was informed of the fatality and charge, at which point he arranged for his client to lawfully turn himself over to police.
“This was not a standoff,” the attorney said. “This was my client and I not knowing what was going on in terms of the charges that were pending.”
Monahan’s driveway is 1/8th of a mile long and has no trespassing and private driveway signs, the attorney said.
Kaylin Gillis was soon to start college
Gillis’ family issued a statement praising her as a “kind, beautiful soul and a ray of light to anyone who was lucky enough to know her.”
“She was a big sister, much loved daughter, devoted friend and partner to her loving boyfriend. She was just beginning to find her way in the world with kindness, humor, and love,” the family said. “Kaylin was a talented artist, an honor student, a Disney fanatic and loved animals. She was looking forward to starting college in Florida to pursue her dream of becoming a marine biologist.
“She was taken from us far too soon, and we are devastated. Our family will never be the same but we will be guided by Kaylin’s positivity, optimism, and joy as we learn to live with her loss.”
The family also thanked those who have expressed support and asked for privacy. “Your well wishes and prayers are deeply appreciated, have been heard and will carry us through this difficult journey,” the family said.
Gillis graduated from Schuylerville High School in 2021 and held the position of “flyer” on the school’s cheerleading team, her former cheer coach Charlene Deming said.
“She was always smiling and laughing, and trying to make others laugh,” Deming told CNN.
Walsh told NBC Tuesday that he and Gillis had been together for over four years. “I had high hopes, and I had plans,” he said adding, “I didn’t want to be with anybody else, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.”
“I want the world to know how good of a person she really was and how much she impacted everybody who had the fortunate opportunity to be in her life.”
“My world was taken from me Saturday,” he told NBC, adding he will miss her smile, eyes and how happy she made him.
Murphy, the sheriff, said he was a friend of the victim’s family and lamented the killing. “A case like this is absolutely senseless,” he said.
More than $97,000 has been raised for Gillis’ family in a GoFundMe raising money for the “Gillis family for use toward Kaylin’s funeral expenses and any immediate financial needs,” according to the page.
Chuchay Stark, a woman who lives in the county where this happened and took high school senior portraits of Gillis, said the community is going through a spectrum of emotions “from disgust to being heartbroken.” She recalled Gillis as one of the few kids who “knew exactly what she wanted” and was sweet to work with.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect last name for Monahan’s defense attorney. It is Mausert.
CNN’s Eric Levenson, Kristina Sgueglia and Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.