Some might say that Kristin Gragan and her son, Jared, of Marietta, were in the wrong place at the wrong time — inadvertently stumbling into an escalating crime scene late Monday and in harm’s way.
Kristin Gragan, 44, looks at the events differently.
“Maybe I was at the right place at the right time to help that woman,” Gragan said. “That’s the way we’re thinking of it.”
It began for mother and son about 10:15 to 10:30 p.m. Monday when the Gragans were just a mile and a half from their home on Washington County 9.
Jared, 17, a senior, is home schooled and the two had been on a field trip to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton with another home-schooled family.
They were tired, but nearly home.
“We’d passed the dairy farm on the left and then there was a lady I saw out in the road, on the left hand side,” Kristin Gragan said. “She had blood on her face and I could tell she was injured. I stopped and rolled down my window part way and called to her.”
The woman began to scream, “We need help! We need help!” according to Gragan.
“I’d never seen her before. She had blonde hair and seemed hurt, scared, and shocked,” she said. “I thought she’d had a car accident.”
The woman ran off up a hill along the road and the two didn’t see her after that.
But before Gragan had a chance to move her car, two cars pulled up behind her.
“I just thought it was regular traffic stopping behind me, but my son yelled that it was a sheriff’s car,” she said. “The sheriff called out to us — ‘What house is it? What house is it?’ and somebody was yelling for me to ‘wait right here.’ I was sitting in the middle of the road in front of a drive way sitting there.”
The next thing Gragan heard was someone yelling — “Put down that gun!” and she saw a man in a doorway of the house with a gun.
The next sound was gun shots and her car was hit by a bullet, shattering the back window, through the passenger side of the back seat, penetrating the middle head rest of the seat and ending up in the dash board, passing within 4 inches of Jared Gragan’s head.
“He’s tall and always has his seat pushed back,” she said. “Otherwise, it might have hit him. Thank goodness he was sitting in the front seat and not in the back.”
The entire incident, from the time she had stopped to help the woman in the road, happened in no more than 60 seconds, Gragan estimates.
“Jared thought I was hit and I thought he was hit,” she said. “We called out to one another to make sure each of us was alright then I quickly left there and headed right home. My husband was home. I flew up the driveway and laid on the horn. I left the van running.”
A single bullet was lying on the seat, she said.
She called her sister first thing to tell her about it.
“She is always so calming,” Gragan said. “I was kind of a wreck I guess.”
Gragan and her husband, Pat, who is DARE officer with the Marietta Police Department, waited up together until nearly 6 a.m. Tuesday until sheriff’s officers called them to say that shooting suspect Jason Berecz had been captured and was in custody.
Kristin Gragan was afraid the man was still on the loose and would come after her.
“I think I got two hours sleep after that,” she said. “Getting over this won’t be as quick as I would like it to be. Jared is OK, but he’s been a little quiet.”
When she went out on errands Tuesday, Gragan almost took a back road to avoid passing by the house where shots were fired the night before.
“I don’t want to begin to see bad guys behind everything,” she said. “So I went the way I usually do. I was nervous, but it helped to know that he was caught.”
She didn’t know the family who lived in the house, had not met any of them, but had occasionally had seen an older lady there. She never saw Berecz there before, she said.
“Everybody’s fine. I’m so thankful the deputy (Sgt. Scott Parks) was not seriously hurt, that no one was hurt bad. It took me some time to quit shaking,” Gragan said. “I’ve never been shot at before.”