5/26/2020

Seven-year-old Jarett Riley will carry a 2 ½-inch scar of a bullet wound on his forehead the rest of his life. The shot was fired by a trespasser, apparently trying to poach a wild turkey. The vivacious first-grader from Galva was standing beside his father, Jesse, in a pasture on April 25.

The shooter sped away, leaving Jarett’s parents trying to stop the heavy bleeding and summoning help to a remote location. Before sundown, Jarett was aboard a medical helicopter heading for Wichita. A bone fragment was later removed from the boy’s brain. His prognosis is good.

While the physical scar will never leave, family and friends now focus on easing Jarett’s emotional scars along what could be a long road to normalcy. To help, dozens of strangers stepped up with a gift of a lifetime hunting and fishing license for the 7-year-old. The current value is $960 but could save the boy thousands compared to buying licenses the rest of his life.

Those behind the gift hope that every time Jarett looks at the plastic card through the decades, he will focus on the actions of the hundreds who helped his family, and not the shooter who almost ended his life.

“I just didn’t want the boy, and his family, to let hatred, anger and fear consume them,” said Mathew Spencer, who initiated the idea. “I fight depression and anxiety every day. I know the importance of striving to find, and focus on, something positive.”

FROM DREAM HUNT TO NIGHTMARE

Galva, population about 900, is about 50 miles north of Wichita.

Here friendships form fast and usually hold fast for lifetimes. Kids, like Jarett and his brother, Tanner, 9, get dirty daily outdoors. Their thumbs are used more to work fishing reels than electronic games.

The entire Riley family, including mother, Erin, headed out for adventure on April 25. Their first stop was to hunt at a rural McPherson County property where wild turkeys are abundant and no other turkey hunters were allowed.

Spring turkey season, when the turkeys are breeding, is designed for taking the gobbling and strutting toms. Hunters replicate the calls of a love-sick hen. Decoys duplicate a hen or rival tom.

It’s a short-range event. Only shotguns and archery gear are allowed. Hunters must see a visible beard, a hair-like primitive feather that sprouts from a tom’s chest, to legally hunt the bird.

Jarett and both of his parents, all dressed in camouflage, found themselves hiding in brush with strutting toms headed their way. Fried turkey nuggets, a family favorite, seemed likely.

The dream hunt quickly turned into a nightmare.

“All of a sudden the birds started to spook. They’d seen something,” his dad, Jesse Riley, recalls. “About then we heard a vehicle coming and figured it was the landowner coming. No problem, we’d just hunt somewhere else or go fishing.”

A shot sounded as the Rileys gathered their gear. The father then saw a utility vehicle headed their way, well into the property. A woman was driving with a male passenger.

Skip BackSkip ForwardUnmuteCaptionsCurrent Time 0:00/Duration 1:44Fullscreen2019 Great Outdoors Month in KansasSHARE Kansas Governor Laura Kelly proclaimed June 2019 as Great Outdoors Month. She praised the benefits of spending time outdoors from boating to hiking to hunting. (June 2019) BY KANSAS DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE, PARKS AND TOURISM/FACEBOOK

Seven-year-old Jarett Riley will carry a 2 ½-inch scar of a bullet wound on his forehead the rest of his life. The shot was fired by a trespasser, apparently trying to poach a wild turkey. The vivacious first-grader from Galva was standing beside his father, Jesse, in a pasture on April 25.

The shooter sped away, leaving Jarett’s parents trying to stop the heavy bleeding and summoning help to a remote location. Before sundown, Jarett was aboard a medical helicopter heading for Wichita. A bone fragment was later removed from the boy’s brain. His prognosis is good.

While the physical scar will never leave, family and friends now focus on easing Jarett’s emotional scars along what could be a long road to normalcy. To help, dozens of strangers stepped up with a gift of a lifetime hunting and fishing license for the 7-year-old. The current value is $960 but could save the boy thousands compared to buying licenses the rest of his life.

Those behind the gift hope that every time Jarett looks at the plastic card through the decades, he will focus on the actions of the hundreds who helped his family, and not the shooter who almost ended his life.

“I just didn’t want the boy, and his family, to let hatred, anger and fear consume them,” said Mathew Spencer, who initiated the idea. “I fight depression and anxiety every day. I know the importance of striving to find, and focus on, something positive.”

FROM DREAM HUNT TO NIGHTMARE

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Galva, population about 900, is about 50 miles north of Wichita.

Here friendships form fast and usually hold fast for lifetimes. Kids, like Jarett and his brother, Tanner, 9, get dirty daily outdoors. Their thumbs are used more to work fishing reels than electronic games.

The entire Riley family, including mother, Erin, headed out for adventure on April 25. Their first stop was to hunt at a rural McPherson County property where wild turkeys are abundant and no other turkey hunters were allowed.

Spring turkey season, when the turkeys are breeding, is designed for taking the gobbling and strutting toms. Hunters replicate the calls of a love-sick hen. Decoys duplicate a hen or rival tom.

It’s a short-range event. Only shotguns and archery gear are allowed. Hunters must see a visible beard, a hair-like primitive feather that sprouts from a tom’s chest, to legally hunt the bird.

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Jarett and both of his parents, all dressed in camouflage, found themselves hiding in brush with strutting toms headed their way. Fried turkey nuggets, a family favorite, seemed likely.

The dream hunt quickly turned into a nightmare.

“All of a sudden the birds started to spook. They’d seen something,” his dad, Jesse Riley, recalls. “About then we heard a vehicle coming and figured it was the landowner coming. No problem, we’d just hunt somewhere else or go fishing.”

A shot sounded as the Rileys gathered their gear. The father then saw a utility vehicle headed their way, well into the property. A woman was driving with a male passenger.

They stopped 440 feet away. Jesse saw the man raise a rifle and point it at him. A shot was fired and Jarett fell.

Jesse Riley quickly realized the shot was fired at a decoy he was holding as they prepared to leave. Jarett was just a few feet away and dropped instantly. Standing behind her husband and son, Erin Riley saw it all.

“It’s an image I’ll never get out of my head, looking down and seeing all that blood running down his face,” Erin said. “I was just yelling ‘we have to call 911.’”

Jesse ran at the shooter, repeatedly yelling, “You just shot our son.” The vehicle turned and left the property.

Jesse Riley said he recognized the shooter and witnessed the shooter trespassing, using an illegal firearm for turkey hunting and illegally shooting from a vehicle. No charges have been filed. The McPherson County attorney said by email last week that he is in the process of reviewing the sheriff’s investigation into the shooting.

Erin Riley was amazed help arrived within minutes of her cellphone call. Many were volunteer firemen who raced to the pasture when the call went out that a child had been shot.

The Rileys knew it was good that Jarett never lost consciousness and the bleeding was under control. After a few minutes at a McPherson hospital, the boy was flown to Wesley Medical Center.

The shot was a fraction of an inch from being fatal, the Rileys later learned. The small caliber bullet fractured Jarett’s skull, but did not enter it.

“What happened was horrible,” said Erin Riley, “but it so easily could have been horrific.”

EMOTIONAL HEALING, FOR MANY

Even by small town standards, the outpouring of support has been exceptional. Friends arrived at the McPherson hospital within minutes of the family’s arrival. Phone calls, messages and gifts of food were nearly non-stop.

Jarett’s homecoming after a few days in the Wichita hospital found his street lined with cheering people. They waved posters and honked car horns as the family passed by. About a week later Jarrett was back in the hospital with an infection, and a surgeon removed a bone fragment from the boy’s brain.

Social media lit up for days, as did tempers, as word spread of the shooting.

“I’d say a clear majority were fired up. A lot still are,” said Eric Brown, founder of the 42,000-member Kansas Hunting and Fishing Facebook page. “A lot of it was because it was a father and a son. Many of our members are parents or grandparents. Then we started learning (the shooter) wasn’t hunting legally. He wasn’t a hunter, he was a poacher. Not only did he shoot a child, he did it while already breaking the law.”

Spencer, of Topeka, a father of an outdoors family, read many angry comments on the Facebook page. He agrees the shooter should be held accountable. But he thinks the focus should be on supporting Jarett.

So, amid scores of negative posts, Spencer asked Brown to help raise money to buy Jarett a lifetime Kansas hunting and fishing license.

The Facebook page often sponsors raffles for outdoor causes. Usually it’s to support the Wichita-based Pass It On Outdoor Mentors program.

“It was a great idea. (Jarett) will always have something to remind him how much the sportsmen of Kansas cared,” Brown said. “Hopefully this will encourage him to go hunting and fishing the rest of his life.”

Jesse and Erin Riley were a bit overwhelmed when approached about the idea. They consented mainly for the emotional healing it would bring so many upset by the shooting.

The raffle prize was a lifetime Kansas hunting and fishing license. Brown’s page offered 100 chances at $20 each, enough to buy lifetime licenses for Jarett and the winner.

Tickets were gone in barely an hour.

Spencer didn’t win the drawing, but he’s proud so many contributed.

“If we want to make our kids more productive, to have them make our world better, we have to set good examples,” he said. “Hopefully this kid will focus more on the good in life than the bad. Someday, he needs to be the one setting the good example.”

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