‘He was like a ninja’: Rivanna shooting remains unsolved

On April 7, two young men were shot at by an unknown assailant at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir near Woodburn Road. PC: SanjaySuchak On April 7, two young men were shot at by an unknown assailant at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir near Woodburn Road. PC: SanjaySuchak

On the morning of April 7, a local 20-year-old college student and his 18-year-old cousin woke up early, excited for a day of fishing on the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. By 9 am, they were on the water in their kayaks, waiting to see who would make the first catch of the day.

Shortly before 10 they heard gunshots. They couldn’t tell which direction they were coming from, but they were shocked when the second shot landed in the water about 30 to 40 yards away from their kayaks.

“We just figured this hunter was not seeing us,” says the college student, who for privacy reasons asked that we not use his or his cousin’s names. But “the next one got even closer. That’s when we realized we needed to start getting to shore.”

As the young men frantically paddled toward the riverbank, the shooter fired about a dozen more times in their direction, one shot landing five or six feet away from the college student’s kayak. He and his cousin reached dry land , and immediately took cover in the woods to the right of the boat ramp and called the police to report an active shooter.

“We figured [the shooting] was coming from somewhere along the loading dock, near our car,” he says. “When we called the cops, we realized that the shooter stopped. We didn’t hear anything, so we figured we had a chance to get the kayaks in the car immediately and just to leave.”

A single Albemarle County police officer arrived around the time they finished packing up their kayaks. After talking with the officer for a few minutes, the young men noticed some movement across the water, near a black fence located on Millers Cottage Road.

“We saw this guy running down a hill in all black. He was like a ninja almost…he started from one end of the black fence to the other side,” the college student says. “He was full-on sprinting, but it looked effortless. Like he was trained.”

“We told the cop, ‘Look, there he is!’ And before we even realized it, [the person] was gone,” he adds. “I think he was trying…to get to an area where he could get a better read on us.”

Gunshots started flying again, forcing all three men to take cover. As soon as the shooting stopped, the young men immediately jumped in their car and booked it home. 

The police officer called the college student later that day, and told him that more shots were fired after he and his cousin left, one of them going right over the officer’s head and striking the tree behind him. The officer said he did not see the shooter, or where he went, the college student says.

Multiple officers immediately conducted a 90-minute search of the area, according to an April 7 press release, but were unable to determine the source of the shooting, or collect any evidence. However, the high schooler and his father performed their own search the following day, and claimed they found four nine millimeter cases “10 steps into a trail,” where they believe the shooter fired toward the young men and the responding officer. The casings have since been turned over to the ACPD. 

Bad weather was forecast for that evening, so the young men and their families urged the police to bring trained dogs immediately to the area, because the rain could wash away gunpowder, as well as any fingerprints left on gun casings. The college student says the police did not bring a dog to the scene until two days after the shooting, when it had already rained twice.

“It was pretty worthless to even have a K-9 come out at that point,” says the college student.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to bash the cops, just because I don’t know all that goes on,” he adds. But “the reason they didn’t clear out the reservoir is beyond me…or even put out an alert [saying there’s] a possible shooting at Rivanna River.”

In response to C-VILLE’s questions, ACPD declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation. But in an April 17 press release, the department stated that “strong evidence was collected to show that the two individuals in kayaks were not being shot at, nor targeted” and that “evidence shows there is no public threat.” The release did not specify what that evidence was.

Police said they are continuing to investigate “the individual that fired the weapon.” Anyone with information related to the incident is encouraged to call CrimeStoppers at 977-4000 or email CrimeStoppers@albemarle.org.

Updated 4/16 and 4/20 with additional information.

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