Jill Walker cringes every time she turns on the news and hears the phrase "football player murdered cheerleader" about her daughter, Emma

By KC Baker
February 01, 2017 04:31 PM
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emma-walker
Credit: Courtesy Walker Family

Jill Walker cringes every time she turns on the news and hears the phrase “football player murdered cheerleader.

“I want people to know my daughter isn’t just a murdered cheerleader,” Walker tells PEOPLE of 16-year-old Emma Walker. “She was so much more than that.”

Police say Emma was killed in her bedroom on Nov. 21 when her 18-year-old ex-boyfriend, former Maryville College wide receiver William Riley Gaul, allegedly shot her from outside the family’s one-story home in Knoxville, Tennessee, while she slept.

Yes, Jill says, Emma was a cheerleader at Central High School in Knoxville. “But she was also so many things to so many people.”

“She was a daughter, a sister, a friend,” Jill says. “She would act silly and didn’t care what other people thought. She didn’t care about being in a certain group. She was friends with everybody.

“She was involved in her community, had a job and was an honors student. She was an independent little thing and could be stubborn — and sassy. She marched to her own drum.”

But mostly, Jill says, “Emma had a big heart.” The teen planned on being a neonatal nurse.

“She loved babies, animals and old people,” her mom says. “If she saw an elderly couple together, she would always say to me, ‘Oh, there is the cutest little couple.’ ”

Emma’s aunt has claimed Gaul “refused” to move on after he and Emma broke up in the fall, and investigators allege he stalked her weeks before he shot her dead.

He was arrested on Nov. 22 at his home, a day after the killing. On Jan. 25, he was indicted on seven criminal counts in the case, including first-degree murder, especially aggravated stalking, tampering with evidence and employing a firearm during a dangerous felony.

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William Riley Gaul
| Credit: Knox County Sheriff's Office

After posting $1 million bond on Tuesday, Gaul was released from the Knox County Detention Facility where he had been held. He has not yet entered a plea and is scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 13.

His attorney has not returned calls, and a woman who answered the phone at his mother’s address declined to comment. Gaul’s mother told WATE in November that her son was not responsible.

“Riley did not do this,” she told the station. “He would not hurt her because he loved Emma dearly. He is not a monster.”

‘Keeping Emma’s Little Spirit Alive’

Since Emma’s death, her parents and younger brother, Evan, have been trying to cope with their loss as best they can, Jill says: “We are living day by day. We are trying to find a new normal for ourselves and stay positive.”

In January, it was announced that Emma’s family and friends, and other well-wishers, had raised enough money to name a neonatal intensive care unit room in her honor at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital — reflecting her dreams of becoming a nurse.

A scholarship was also named for her at Central High. Donations can be made by check, including the name of the scholarship, mailed directly to the school. A fundraiser will be held at Central High on March 24.

“We are trying to keep Emma’s little spirit alive,” Jill says.

With a murder trial pending, she is unable to discuss the shooting or her daughter’s relationship with Gaul. “I just hope that justice is served,” she says.

Jill says she’s learned new things about Emma in the wake of her death. “I have received a few notes from other mothers, who wrote to me and said, ‘My daughter was being picked on and Emma stood up for her,’ ” she says.

“It makes me feel good to know that she was out there doing the right thing and not just following along with what other people did. That says a lot.”