Teen Spent 30 Hours Hiding in California Forest After Gunman Killed His Dad

A 15-year-old boy spent the night in a California forest after fleeing a gunman who shot his father dead, authorities said.

Dr. Ari Gershman and his son encountered the suspect while driving down a dirt road in the Poker Flat area of northwestern Sierra County last Friday, the Sierra County Sheriff's Office said in a news release late on Tuesday.

"The suspect opened fire on Dr. Gershman and his son, killing Dr. Gershman," the sheriff's department said. "The juvenile son fled into the forest to escape the shooter and find an area where he could call for help."

The sheriff's office said it conducted a massive search of the area, with the help of other law enforcement agencies, throughout Friday night and into Saturday.

Initial responding officers located Gershman in his vehicle, but didn't find his son until Saturday afternoon.

Officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and a K-9, using human tracking skills, hiked through the forest with a Sierra County deputy and located the teenager. "Although the juvenile had fled a considerable distance, the officers were able to track and locate him," the sheriff's office said.

Tahoe National Forest
Stock photo shows the Truckee River in Tahoe National Forest in Northern California. A teenager spent a night hiding in the forest after his father was shot dead by an assailant. Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

"Even though the juvenile had fled the shooting and spent the night alone in the forest, he was in good physical condition and did not require medical attention. After giving him some food and water, officers transported him to the Sheriff's Office, where he was reunited with his mother."

A post on a GoFundMe page set up to support Gershman's wife Paige, who is fighting cancer, and their three children, said their son Jack had been found safe after spending 30 hours hiding in the Tahoe National Forest.

Gershman was "an avid bicyclist, a vegetarian, an outdoorsman, an Internal Medicine Doctor, a devoted and loving father and fantastic friend that was willing to drop anything for his friends and family," the post said.

It added that he "died doing what he loved with his son in an area he had hoped to retire in one day." The campaign had raised more than $350,000 as of Wednesday.

Gershman's cousin Marlo Meyer-Berer told KTVU that Gershman and his son had heard a vehicle come up behind them and had been planning to ask the driver for directions when he opened fire.

"Ari stepped on the gas to get out of there. He was hit, grabbed his chest. He was able to pull to the side and put the Jeep in park so Jack could get out and run. Then Ari fell out of the Jeep and that's where they found him," she said.

She said the teenager had feared he would be shot if he came out into the open.

"He was hiding in the bushes and he hears helicopters and says 'What do I do? If I go out in the open I could get shot,'" Meyer-Berer told the station.

Meyer-Berer said Jack had used the last of his cell phone battery to send "gut-wrenching" goodbye videos to his mother, who is fighting cancer.

She added that Gershman, who ran clinical trials to get medication ready to go to market, had a "heart of gold."

The sheriff's office identified the suspect in the shooting as 40-year-old John Thomas Conway, of Oroville, and said he had been taken into custody a short time after Jack was located.

Conway had approached two CDFW wildlife officers and a U.S. Forest Service officer "at high speed" in a utility terrain vehicle, the sheriff's office said.

"The suspect failed to stop and tried to run over the two wildlife officers and then fled south on Saddleback Road towards Downieville. A third wildlife officer was positioned down the road in Downieville and started driving up the hill to block the suspects' vehicle," the sheriff's office said.

A vehicle collision occurred as officers attempted to arrest Conway, the sheriff's office said.

"The suspect immediately represented a threat to the officers, leading to an officer-involved shooting and deployment of a K-9. The suspect was taken into custody, and after receiving medical treatment at the scene, he was transported to the hospital," the sheriff's office added.

The sheriff's office said that before it received the 911 call from Gershman's son, deputies had received a report that two other people had been shot by an assailant in the same general area.

"Neither victim knew the shooter, and the act appeared to be a random act of violence," the sheriff's office said. Both victims were transported to the hospital by helicopter with injuries that were not life-threatening, the sheriff's office said.

The sheriff's office added that it is working with the Sierra County District Attorney and anticipates that charges against Conway will be announced soon.

Anyone with information related to the incident is urged contact the Sierra County Sheriff's Office at (530) 289-3700.