PABLO — Gail Ashley Robertson feels like she’s living in a nightmare and that she’ll never wake up.
Her husband, Tom, also feels haunted.
“I keep hoping that we’ll get justice for Johnny,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re going to.”
In September, Gail’s son and Tom’s stepson, Johnny McKeever, was shot and killed during the early morning hours on the porch of a home not his own in Pablo on Sept. 16.
The couple has been told that he lay there for 23 minutes before anyone in the house called the police.
Both wonder if he might have lived had someone called sooner.
Ryan Black, 28, of Pablo was arrested at the scene and held on a charge of deliberate homicide. He appeared before a Lake County justice who released him on his own recognizance with a requirement to wear a GPS monitoring device.
Since then, Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher has told the Robertsons he believes it was a case of self defense, but he hasn’t provided them any details on why that might be. He did say he plans to make his ruling public next week.
Since receiving the news, the couple said they have tried to get information from the county attorney’s office without success.
“I literally have to burn up his phone before he (Eschenbacher) will finally answer my calls,” Tom Robertson said. “My sister-in-law has called and called and he never called her back. The kids have called and not got any answers or even a call back. When we finally do get a hold of him, he says it was self defense, sorry for your loss and hangs up.
“As far as I can see, he is just sweeping this under the rug and walking away,” he said. “We don’t understand it. The detective has told us that it comes as a homicide, but the DA isn’t looking at it that way. He said he’s going to make a ruling next Tuesday that it was self defense. He said there’s no judge involved and that he has the final say.”
The Missoulian has attempted to reach Eschenbacher for weeks seeking more information on the case. He hasn’t returned multiple phone calls.
Both the Robertsons said that McKeever, of Pablo, is being painted as a person he was not.
“He wasn’t a hoodlum or a troublemaker,” Gail Robertson said. “He worked hard all of his life. He worked for everything he had … He wasn’t a violent person.”
Born with a clubbed foot, his mother had been told he would never walk.
“He pretty much showed everyone that they were wrong,” she said. “He used his little cast as a tool to help him get started. He was walking by the time he was nine months old.
“He was always in pain, but you could never tell that. He was a funny kid. You could be having a bad day and then in would walk Johnny and he would make you laugh. That was the kind of person he was. Since he was a baby, his smile was infectious. Even during those times when he went through so many operations, he was always smiling and always happy.”
Gail Robertson said his world brightened even more when his daughter was born. She turned seven a few days after he died.
“He enjoyed all of his kids,” she said. “Family was always important to him.”
Tom and Gail Robertson work as long haul truck drivers. They were passing through Louisiana on Friday with a load of drywall when they talked with the Missoulian.
Gail Robertson remembers that they were in Nebraska at about 8 a.m. on the day the phone rang with the terrible news about their son.
“I heard my oldest son on the phone and he was crying,” she said. “I thought maybe something had happened to one of his kids. Instead, I heard him saying ‘Mom, Johnny just got shot. He’s dead. Johnny just got shot.’ ”
She remembers getting out of the truck and then just walking around it in circles for the longest time.
“That’s all I could do,” she said. “There wasn’t any other place I could go. I just walked around and around the semi. I couldn’t believe that he was gone.
“He was a kid who could walk up to people he didn’t even know and make friends with them in five seconds,” she said. “He would give them the shirt right off his back … He was a very giving person. He was a joy for us.”
Tom Robertson said they don’t know for sure what they’ll do if Eschenbacher decides to call it a case of self defense. They are considering filing a civil case.
“We don’t think that he’s going to get justice,” he said. “If he had been killed in a car wreck or a natural cause, it would be easier to deal with. People tell us that we have to try to get over it, but you can’t get over it. It haunts me every night. I want to turn this truck around and find the man who shot him, but I know I can’t do that. It’s been hard.”
Added Gail Robertson, “Everyone wants to put the blame on Johnny because he’s not here to defend himself. He was too nice of a person to go down like this. It’s a nightmare that I can’t wake up from.”