By Mark Follman, Julia Lurie, Jaeah Lee, James West, based on research by Ted Miller
It was a mild, crystal clear desert evening on November 15, 2004, when Jennifer Longdon and her fiance, David Rueckert, closed up his martial-arts studio and headed out to grab some carnitas tortas from a nearby taqueria. They were joking and chatting about wedding plans—the local Japanese garden seemed perfect—as Rueckert turned their pickup into the parking lot of a strip mall in suburban north Phoenix. A red truck with oversize tires and tinted windows sideswiped theirs, and as they stopped to get out, Rueckert’s window exploded. He told Longdon to get down and reached for the handgun he had inside a cooler on the cab floor. As he threw the truck into gear, there were two more shots. His words turned to gibberish and he slumped forward, his foot on the gas. A bullet hit Longdon’s back like a bolt of lightning, her whole body a live wire as they accelerated toward the row of palm trees in the concrete divider.
The air bag against her was stifling, the inside of the cab hot. She managed to call 911. “Where are you shot on your body?” the dispatcher asked. “I don’t know, I cannot move. I can’t breathe anymore. Somebody help me,” she pleaded. “I’m dying.”
There was a rush of cool air, and a man leaning over her. Then a flood of bright lights. “Am I being medevacked?” she asked. “Those are news vultures,” the EMT told her. He shielded her face with his hand as they rushed the gurney into the ambulance. She couldn’t stop thinking of her 12-year-old. “Tell my son I love him,” she said.