When Kaylin Gillis and her friends took a wrong turn into an upstate New York driveway last weekend, they couldn’t have known the property was owned by a man who, according to a neighbor, had grown increasingly bitter over the years at people driving onto his land by mistake.
This time, the error proved fatal. The Hebron landowner, Kevin Monahan, opened fire Saturday night, killing 20-year-old Gillis as she and her friends drove away after turning around in the long dirt driveway, Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy said.
Monahan, 65, was arrested on a second-degree murder charge and remains detained pending a bond hearing.
One of his neighbors, Adam Matthews, who runs an auto repair shop in nearby Salem, said Monahan had become more and more upset in recent years at people making wrong turns into his driveway.
“I’m just a bit overwhelmed,” Matthews said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday after speaking to other news outlets. “It is a tragic event.”
Murphy said Gillis and her friends got lost while going to another friend’s nearby house. They were driving two cars and a motorcycle when they turned into Monahan’s driveway. As they realized the mistake and turned around, Monahan fired two gunshots at them as they drove away, Murphy said.
One of the bullets struck the rear of the car Gillis was in and hit her, causing a fatal injury, Murphy said.
Gillis’ father, Andrew Gillis, said in a Facebook post Tuesday that his family is devastated.
“Kaylin was a kind, beautiful soul and a ray of light to anyone who was lucky enough to know her,” the post said. “She was just beginning to find her way in the world with kindness, humor, and love. … She was taken from us far too soon.”
Andrew Gillis wrote that his daughter was an honors student and talented artist who was looking forward to attending college in Florida with dreams of becoming a marine biologist.
“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,” he wrote.
Monahan’s lawyer, meanwhile, spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday, calling the sheriff’s version of the events a “superficial, simplistic” account of what actually happened.
The attorney, Kurt Mausert, declined to discuss details of the shooting, citing the pending criminal case.
“I believe we have series of mistakes that led to a tragedy,” he said in a phone interview. “But I don’t believe my client is a villain. But not every case with a tragedy has a villain, and I think this is one of them.”
The sheriff described Monahan as uncooperative, saying he initially refused to come out of the house before peacefully surrendering after about an hour.
Mausert disputed there was any standoff, saying he was on the phone with his client as law enforcement officers were at Monahan’s door. He said Monahan was talking to police outside his door and officials would not say why they were there and did not have an arrest warrant. The lawyer said Monahan was exercising his right to remain silent when he declined to talk to police about what happened.
When police officials told the lawyer over the phone that someone had died, Mausert said he helped arrange the peaceful surrender.
“They told me there was a fatality, then it started to make sense to me,” he said. “At that point, it’s dangerous for everybody. My goal at that point was to facilitate my client turning himself in to the police safely.”
As Gillis’ family mourned Tuesday, officials at the school system she attended held a news conference to express their sadness about her death. Gillis graduated in 2021 from Schuylerville High School, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Monahan’s home in Hebron. Her two younger sisters are in grades seven and nine in Schuylerville.
“We have very very close-knit community,” said Katie Elsworth, the middle school principal. “And we say to them upon graduation that we will always be your school family. We will always be here to support you and take care of you and love you. And when something happens to one of students who graduated, it hurts our hearts just as much as when they’re here.”
Schuylerville High School Principal James Ducharme said Gillis had an infectious smile.
“Her smile would light up a room,” he said. “Her personality would light up any classroom that she walked into or any club activity that she participated in.”
School officials said Gillis was on the competition cheerleading team in high school for two seasons, took part in Future Farmers of America programs and was an avid artist.
A celebration of Gillis’ life was scheduled for Friday in Schuylerville.