When Rosemary Billquist was killed in Sherman, New York, when a hunter mistook her for a deer, the bullet cut short the life of a woman beloved in her town

By Adam Carlson
December 20, 2017 09:54 AM

When Rosemary Billquist was fatally shot in November after being mistaken by a hunter for a deer, the bullet cut short the life of a woman beloved in her small town, known for her outsized generosity and acts of kindness, her family tells PEOPLE.

“I just want everybody to know that didn’t know her, people’s lives that she didn’t touch, what a wonderful person she really was,” says Jamie Billquist, Rosemary’s husband of 21 years. “People probably think, ‘Well was she? Nobody’s that perfect.’ But you know she was, she’s one of a kind, for sure. There are people like that in this world, and not very many unfortunately.”

On Nov. 22, around 5:20 p.m., Rosemary was shot once in the hip by Thomas Jadlowski from some 200 yards away as she was out walking her dogs in a field near her home in Sherman, investigators have said.

Jadlowski, 34, remained on the scene after hitting Rosemary, 43, and he explained what happened to authorities, according to the Chautauqua County, New York, Sheriff’s Office. Immediately after firing on what he believed to be a deer, Jadlowski said, he heard a scream and raced to Rosemary and called 911 while applying pressure to her wound.

Rosemary died in the hospital. Husband Jamie rode with her in the ambulance.

Jadlowski has since been charged with second-degree manslaughter and hunting after legal hours, to which he has pleaded not guilty. (It is illegal to hunt after sunset in New York.)

In a statement, Jadlowski’s attorney called the shooting a “tragic situation” that “will certainly alter the lives of [Rosemary’s] family and friends, as it will for my client and his family.”

He described Rosemary as “a shining star in our community, and she will clearly be greatly missed.” He declined to comment further.

“Everybody knew either both of or one of them,” says Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph A. Gerace and “everyone was touched” by the shooting.

Speaking with PEOPLE, Rosemary’s husband and her older brother Al Jafarjian shared some memories of her — a few of the many moments that stood out from a life spent “continuously helping” others, they say.

“I think the community’s rallied around one another, very supportive of the victim’s family, the husband and the family,” Gerace says, adding, “Nobody wins in this thing, nobody wins. The fact that we charged him [Jadlowski] doesn’t change the fact that Rosemary’s gone. I’m hoping that hunters who look at this story think about not wanting to be involved in anything like this during their lifetime and [are reminded] that once that bullet leaves the barrel, there’s no calling it back.”

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Rosemary Billquist
From left: Jamie and Rosemary Billquist (front) with their nieces
Courtesy Jamie Billquist

‘We’ve Been Through a Lot’

The town of Sherman, in western New York by Lake Erie, has only 1,000 residents. Many of those people, from all walks of life, came to pay their respects to Rosemary’s family during visitation the day before her Nov. 29 funeral, her brother says.

A longtime employee of the WCA Hospital in nearby Jamestown, where she worked in various records-keeping positions, her death left a void with her coworkers and the hospital’s patients, says Jamie, 47: “It just isn’t the same there without her skipping down the halls.”

“I never saw so many doctors in my life come to her wake,” Jafarjian, 47, says.

A group of Amish community members also attended, Jafarjian says. In tears, they shook his hand and told him: We’ll miss seeing Rosemary wave to us as she ran by the house.

One man who came told a story of meeting Rosemary purely by chance, how he would see her running near the hospital on his lunch break and they would exchange pleasantries until, one day, he had his dog with him. After that, they were “fast friends.”

“And that was how she would interact with tons and tons of people,” Jafarjian says.

• For more compelling true crime coverage, follow our Crime magazine on Flipboard.

Rosemary and Jamie did not have children — doting instead on their nieces and their dogs, Stella and Sugar, and cat, “T” (for trouble). They were deeply rooted in their community. The house she shared with Jamie is the same one where she grew up with her three brothers, Al, John and Mark; and, for a time, she, Jamie and two of her siblings owned the property after her father died of cancer.

Then Rosemary and Jamie took over the house themselves, pouring money into it to fix it up.

Jamie says that after moving to Jamestown, where Rosemary graduated from college, they returned to Sherman in 2002. Rosemary, he thinks, always wanted to be closer to home.

At her funeral, friends reportedly remembered her for her laugh, her hair, her love of animals and her selflessness. Jamie says that it was their differences that drew them together, how he was more likely to be in a mosh pit while was she was running a marathon.

Twenty-seven years later, Jamie doesn’t just remember the basic details of how he and Rosemary met, the where and when — he remembers what she was wearing, how they seemed to almost instantly hit it off, and how they had to exchange home phone numbers back then, in 1990, and the excitement of getting back to the house to pick up the phone.

“We’ve been through a lot and we’ve always stayed strong,” he says. “Every day we’d say to each other we love each other … 15, 20 times a day, we always made a point to always say that.”

Rosemary Billquist (second from left, front) with her family
Courtesy Al Jafarjian
Jamie and Rosemary Billquist with their dogs
Courtesy Jamie Billquist

‘She’ll Never Be Forgotten’

What happens next is a possible trial, as Jadlowski’s prosecution proceeds. Neither Jafarjian nor Jamie — who both plan to be in court — spoke about the criminal case in detail, but they expressed support for the district attorney.

“We’re confident that justice will be served,” Jafarjian says.

Prosecutors did not return a call seeking comment, but Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick E. Swanson has said, “This incident is a tragic reminder of the importance that hunting laws be followed. This incident was completely avoidable. My sincerest condolences go out to the Billquist and Jafarjian families.”

On Wednesday, Rosemary’s hospital will hold a remembrance ceremony and her family has plans for other memorials, including a run/walk and, perhaps, a scholarship at Sherman High School, from which she graduated in 1992.

Next year, Jafarjian plans to run the Turkey Trot in Buffalo in his sister’s honor. She and Jamie had planned to participate this year, just one day after she was shot.

Rosemary’s mark on Sherman is indelible in other ways: At the hospital where she worked sits a bench she installed with Jamie, just so people could have a place to sit. It’s inscribed with a quote: “In a world where you can be anything … be kind.”

“There’s so many things I want to do just to keep her,” Jamie says.

“She’ll never be forgotten,” he says. “I’ll make sure of it.”