Rosemary Billquist had worked a little late Wednesday, so by the time she returned to her home in western New York it was already getting dark.
She took her yellow Labrador retrievers, Sugar and Stella, for a walk around 5:30 p.m., while her husband, Jamie, stayed behind at their home in Sherman, New York, about 65 miles southwest of Buffalo.
But 15 or 20 minutes later, Sugar and Stella came bounding back without her. They were peering backward, barking with unusual urgency.
“They obviously knew something happened,” Jamie Billquist said in an interview Saturday night. “And I’m thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t right.'”
Billquist reached for his phone to call his wife. When he looked up he saw an ambulance barreling into view. There had been a shooting, a volunteer medic told him. As he would soon find out, the victim was his wife.
Authorities said Rosemary Billquist, 43, was walking when one of her neighbors, Thomas B. Jadlowski, believed he saw a deer in a field and fired a single-shot pistol.
Jadlowski heard a scream, and then ran about 200 yards to where he found Billquist with a gunshot wound, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. He called 911 and applied pressure to her wound until medical help arrived. She was pronounced dead at a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Jadlowski, 34, had fired his pistol after sunset, and it is illegal to hunt deer after the sun goes down, the statement said.
Chautauqua County, where the shooting occurred, is a rural and agricultural county of about 132,000 people in the far western corner of New York that is bordered by Pennsylvania to its south and Lake Erie to its north.
Jamie Billquist said he kept calling his wife’s phone until Jadlowski answered it and told him where to meet him. When Billquist found his wife less than 100 yards from the back of their house, she was unresponsive, he said.
“It’s been a tough few days,” Billquist, 47, said. “It just saddens me because it’s something that could have been avoided.”
Authorities said Jadlowski had been cooperating with investigators, and no charges had been filed as of Wednesday. Officials noted that the investigation was continuing, and said prosecutors would review the case.
Attempts to reach Jadlowski on Saturday were unsuccessful.
Jamie Billquist said he and his wife knew the Jadlowski family in the way that neighbors casually do. They would wave when they saw each other and Billquist said he and his wife watched Jadlowski grow up. There were “never any bad feelings” between them, he said.
“I’m not looking for vengeance, and I know Rosemary’s not either,” Billquist said. “There’s got to be some kind of lesson.”
Billquist said he was not a hunter but added that “not knowing what you’re shooting at when you think you’re shooting a deer, it boggles my mind.”
He said he was considering starting a foundation to offer hunting safety courses. First-time hunters must pass one or more courses before getting a hunting license in New York, according to state rules. Four people were killed in hunting-related shootings in New York last year, according to State Department of Environmental Conservation figures.
Dale Dunkelberger, a firearms instructor for the department’s hunter education program, told The Buffalo News that hunters “have to understand there are other people using trails” and using parks “in areas where we as sportsmen hunt.”
After sunset, “you’re done,” he said. “That’s the law.”
It was Dec. 6, 1990, when Jamie Billquist was in a shopping mall with a friend and saw Rosemary in a white dress shirt and a black blazer. She was 17; he was 20. He recalled telling his friend: “This girl is beautiful. I’d like to meet her.”
They hit it off, got married and made a home in Jamestown, New York, before returning to Sherman to fix up and live in the same home where she grew up.
He worked in sales for Pepsi. She became a health information medical specialist, a job that allowed her to help people.
When she wasn’t working, Rosemary Billquist volunteered at a local hospice program, bringing in pets to cheer up patients. If a woman receiving care complimented her fingernail polish, Billquist would return the next day to paint the woman’s nails with that polish.
Even when she was working, Rosemary Billquist would spend her lunch breaks helping dialysis patients return to their cars, Jamie Billquist said.
One day, when she was going for a walk, she saw a man outside the hospital struggling to stand as he waited for his ride. With the help of her husband, Rosemary Billquist brought a bench from home. She stenciled a message on it.
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind,” it said.