Crime & Courts

Slain man ‘took the shots that were meant for his son’

The wind chimes in the front yard of Robert and Roberta Gammon’s house in south Wichita were clanging so hard in the robust wind they could awaken someone from a sound sleep.

If only what she was living through had simply been a nightmare, Roberta said as she sat near her front door Saturday morning.

Less than 12 hours earlier, someone had gunned down her husband by the creek that runs behind their house south of I-235 and just west of Broadway. He was hit four times, she said — twice in the head — and she made it to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis only in time to spend maybe 15 minutes with him before he died.

“You just want to wake up,” Roberta said quietly as she sat in a shaded plastic lawn chair, “and find out it’s all a bad dream.”

Their 23-year-old son had come into their bedroom just after midnight in their house in the 100 block of East 44th Street South and told them there were people rustling around in the backyard.

Robert grabbed a gun — “I don’t know if it was a pistol or a pellet gun,” Roberta said — and father and son went out back to investigate.

Her son later told her that they found two people near the creek, and the intruders confronted them. Police officials later told media at the scene it was a group, though they did not specify how large.

Robert stepped between his son and the others, and one of the intruders opened fire.

“He took the shots that were meant for his son,” Roberta said of her husband.

One or more of the people in the backyard had clashed with a friend of their oldest son while they were riding dirt bikes in the area of Gold and 43rd Street South earlier in the day, Roberta said. That’s only a few blocks west of where they live.

Her son’s friend had spent the past few nights at their house because he was homeless, she said, and obviously someone in the group knew that.

Her husband never fired whatever weapon he had, she said.

Police took several people downtown for questioning. Sgt. Scott Brunow said detectives were interviewing one man extensively, but he did not know as of noon Saturday whether the man had been booked into the Sedgwick County Jail.

Roberta said she had put on her shoes and just stepped into the backyard to see what was going on.

“The next thing I know, I hear four gunshots,” she said.

While she was on the phone to 911, her son ran to the fire station a couple of blocks away to plead for help.

But there was nothing the doctors could do to save her husband, she said.

One shot grazed her husband’s head. Another hit him in the arm. Still another hit him in the chest. He would have survived those wounds, doctors told her. But as he turned to flee, one bullet hit him in the back of the head.

Just last Monday, they had celebrated their 24th anniversary. On Saturday morning, she was reeling from having the man she loved taken from her - and wondering where the money was going to come from to bury him.

He had a gruff exterior that could be intimidating to some, she said, but beneath that he was warm and kind. He had been a maintenance worker for many years until he was laid off three years ago.

“He was a hard worker,” she said.

Rather than sulk, he took care of the house and their five grandchildren, and his wife went to work.

“He was the best son-in-law you could ask for,” Leitha Curnett said through her tears as she sat a few feet away from her daughter.

Roberta said she was intent on staying busy. She’d been up all night, and the police had only left at about 7:30 that morning.

Yet she didn’t want to sleep, she said.

“That would mean when I wake up, this won’t have gone away,” she said.

She stared off into the distance, the only sound coming from the wind chimes.