A Richmond fire lieutenant and mother of three who was slain Thanksgiving night in Hopewell was not the intended target of the gunfire and was trying to protect one of her children when she was shot, Hopewell’s police chief said Tuesday.
“We believe she was shielding her child” when the gunfire started, Hopewell Chief Kamran Afzal said in a phone interview as he was traveling back to Hopewell from visiting family in Canada during the Thanksgiving break. “That’s what I’d expect from [a first responder]. Firefighters and police officers give up their lives for other people and don’t even think twice about it.”
Lt. Ashley Nicole Berry was celebrating Thanksgiving at the home of her boyfriend’s family in Hopewell and was preparing to leave when she was struck by gunfire from a gunman outside who was firing at an adjacent residence, Afzal said.
“She was not the intended target and neither was the house where she was at,” Afzal said. “The apartment next to it was the target. She was definitely at the wrong place at the wrong time ... and got hit by a stray round.”
“Detectives are following up on strong leads and are trying to make the case,” the chief said.
Afzal said the investigators have recovered multiple cartridge casings from the shooting scene.
Police said a silver or gold SUV was seen leaving the area at a high rate of speed. Afzal said it was unclear whether the shooter fired from the vehicle or had stopped and gotten out before opening fire.
Hopewell police responded at 11:39 p.m. Thursday to the 1000 block of Sunnyside Avenue for a report that someone had been shot. Police and emergency medical personnel arrived to find Berry with serious injuries.
Medical treatment was rendered at the scene and Berry was taken to John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell, and then to VCU Medical Center for further treatment. She was later pronounced dead by attending medical staff.
Berry’s boyfriend is also a Richmond firefighter, the chief said.
Berry, 33, who lived in Chesterfield County, had served with the fire department since 2011 and was recently assigned to the fire marshal’s office, the department said.
Berry’s family members came to Richmond Fire Department headquarters on Tuesday to thank the community for their support and to plead with the public to provide leads in the case.
“Ashley’s motherly instinct allowed her to protect her young son from the hail of gunfire, which in turn caused her to lose her life,” George Berry , the lieutenant’s first cousin, said during a news conference at the fire headquarters. “She was a beloved mother of three and will forever be her children’s hero.”
George Berry said the “senseless act of violence” on Thanksgiving had changed his family’s life forever, adding that his cousin leaves behind a legacy of love and dedication to her family, fellow firefighters and her community.
Ashley Berry had many roles, her cousin said, adding that she was a daughter, sister, lieutenant, firefighter, creative designer, a co-founder of a women’s support group and a friend.
“To the persons or person who caused us this pain, we appeal to your conscience to do the right thing and turn yourself in to the authorities,” George Berry said.
George Berry asked anyone with information on the case to contact Hopewell police Detective Mark Polumbo at (804) 541-2284. Anonymous tips can also be provided to the Hopewell Prince George Crimesolvers hotline at (804) 541-2202.
Waverly Berry, Ashley Berry’s father, said at the news conference that he spoke with her 5-year-old son in the emergency room following the shooting and that the boy told him that “the bad people shot mommy.” Waverly Berry said he told his grandson that his mother’s last act of love was to push the child down and save him.
“The good thing is that God put his covering over you so that we can still have you,” Waverly Berry said he told his grandson.
Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter told those gathered for the news conference that in addition to the Berry family, other families in the region are being affected by “unthinkable violence.”
“We will not let Ashley’s untimely death go without her death being extremely meaningful not only to this fire department and to this city, but to all of us at large,” Carter said.
Afzal said Berry’s shooting is the first case since he took the job in January as Hopewell’s police chief that “somebody who was not the intended target was killed.”
“Anytime that happens it’s tragic,” Afzal said. “But it is particularly disturbing knowing that [Berry] is a lieutenant, a brethren at the Richmond Fire Department who had dedicated her life to protecting the community through her work as a firefighter. It really gives you a sense that [tragic, inexplicable] things can happen at any time.”
A celebration of life ceremony for Berry will be held Saturday starting at noon at Second Baptist Church at 3300 Broad Rock Blvd. in Richmond. A public viewing will be held Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Mimms Funeral Home.
There will be a vigil service open to the public on Thursday at Huguenot High School, 7945 Forest Hill Ave., from 5:30-7 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, Berry’s family requests that all donations be made to the Richmond Fire Department Foundation Memorial account in her honor. Donations will be accepted at the Richmond Fire Police Credit Union, 900 Hermitage Road, Richmond, 23220, or can be made by calling (804) 354-0673. Donations should be designated with a notation of “Attention: Lt. Ashley Nicole Berry.”