Kim's husband Eric Dietz and their daughter Shannon spoke to PEOPLE exclusively about their tragic loss

By Winston Ross
Updated October 03, 2015 12:55 AM
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When Eric Dietz – husband of Kim Dietz, one of the nine fatal victims of the Oregon shooting – showed up at the Douglas County Fairgrounds Thursday afternoon, he knew not whether his wife nor his daughter were alive.

Dietz’ brother had called him an hour or so beforehand. There was a shooting on campus at Umpqua Community College, his brother said. Both Dietz’ wife, Kim, and his 19-year-old daughter, Shannon, attended the school. Dietz hopped in his truck and drove as fast as he could to find his family.

On the way, Dietz called the Douglas County Sheriff’s dispatcher. “Where can I get information?” he asked. “What can I do?” “It’s all still new,” the dispatcher told him. “Nothing is set up yet.” “Well I’m driving there,” Dietz said.

Campus was blocked off by the time Dietz arrived. Officials at the scene told him evacuees were being bused to the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Dietz headed back south again.

At the fairgrounds, a woman recognized Dietz and approached him. She was in a classroom with Kim, she said. They’d heard shooting noises. Kim went to look out the door. Someone shot her. She fell back into the room and died there. His daughter Shannon was on campus too, waiting for her class to start, when a teacher suddenly gathered everyone in the student center together into the middle of the room and turned off the lights. There was a shooter on campus, the students figured out thanks to their phones. Maybe one person was dead; maybe two. Shannon had no idea where her mom was.

“One girl was crying the whole time,” she said. “After awhile several people were crying. I was worried. But I was trying to keep calm and not freak myself out.” A police officer showed up and led the students out of the room into another building. The group remained there for 10 or 20 minutes, Shannon tells PEOPLE, before the lockdown lifted and she and the others boarded a bus for the fairgrounds.

“There’s no way to describe the relief I felt when Shannon came down off that bus,” Eric tells PEOPLE. The woman who’d told him his wife was shot and killed, he decided to consider that “hearsay,” he adds. He didn’t share it with his daughter. He hoped for the best. But as each bus arrived with no Kim on board, that hoped diminished. Finally, a police officer emerged from one of the buildings.

“If you’re waiting for someone to come in on the next bus,” the officer said, “there is no next bus.” Eric and his daughter hugged each other and went inside. They checked with area hospitals and spoke with some FBI agents. Later that night, FBI agents came with the sad, confirmed news. Kim was killed in the shooting.

Kim loved mermaids and gardening and animals, Eric says. Their house, on a 38-acre vineyard in the Umpqua Valley, is littered with mermaid posters. She did ceramics. She doted on the family s two Great Pyrenees dogs, hoping they could one day serve as therapy animals for the local veteran’s hospital. She liked the ocean. She turned fallow poppy fields at the winery into beautiful gardens. “She loved the beauty here,” Eric said. “The turning of the seasons.”

Kim Was a Helper

Kim and Eric Dietz moved to southern Oregon from San Juan Capistrano in Orange County in 2008 with Shannon to pursue a dream. They moved onto property on the banks of the South Umpqua River as caretakers of a brand new winery called Pyrenees, named for the mountain range straddling northern Spain and the South of France. They didn’t make much money, but they got to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

“She definitely fell in love with Oregon,” the winery’s owner, Robert Stryk, tells PEOPLE. Kim, 59, handled the landscaping, Stryk said, while Eric manages the winery itself, tending the vineyards. She worked hard. “She loved her garden,” Stryk says. “She cultivated the flowers. She loved sitting on the tractor mowing the law in her little hat. She treated this place like it was hers.”

Kim grew up in a small town north of England, Stryk says, and she loved to talk about that. “She had the greatest stories,” Stryk says. “You knew if Kim came to dinner you’d be regaled with stories. She was a very neat woman. Just so cool.”

Their daughter graduated from high school last year, and had just started classes at Umpqua Community College. Kim decided to take some classes too. “She was just trying to gain some more life experience,” Stryk adds.

On Thursday morning, Stryk flipped on the television at his home in California and saw something on the news about Roseburg. He called Eric, who told Stryk his wife was missing. Eric went to the Douglas County Fairgrounds to find both his wife and his daughter. The girl arrived on the last bus from campus. Kim never showed up.

Kim was in the classroom next door to the shooter, Stryk tells PEOPLE. When she heard the shooting, her instincts as a former park ranger kicked in. “She popped her head out,” he said, “that s when he shot her. Kim s attitude would have been to run towards a shot, not away from it. She was a helper.”

As he remembered her, Stryk walked across to the riverfront, to Kim’s favorite spot, to where she liked to pull out her “Annie Oakley gun,” as Stryk called it, and fire the heavy revolver into the sky, just for fun. “I couldn’t even hold that gun, it had such a big kickback,” he said. “For somebody to take her out, they really had to take her out. She was a tough woman.” As Stryk spoke, a blue heron flew past a turtle nest. Kim’s canoe lay shrouded in the bushes upstream. “It’s funny,” Stryk says. “You think you leave the city for a safe place, and then evil is brought to you.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up for Kim’s memorial service for those who wish to donate.