When Jill Walker walked into her daughter Emma’s room on a chilly November morning in 2016, she found her 16-year-old daughter with no sign of life. This tragic and untimely death of Emma Walker is covered in the episode titled ‘Shot in the Dark’ of ABC’s ‘Bad Romance.’ Delving deeper into the tragedy, this original takes the viewers through the events that led to the harrowing incident and the investigation that followed. It also features interviews with Emma’s family and friends, as well as the detectives plus attorneys involved in the case and trial of her perpetrator.
Emma Walker Was Found Dead in Her Bed
Emma “Em” Jane Walker came into the world and life of Mark and Jill Walker as a bundle of joy on March 20, 2000. Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, she grew up in a loving family alongside her brother Evan Walker. Despite being a junior at Central High School, she was an integral part of the cheerleading squad, BETA Club, HOSA, and Young Life. She was described as a beautiful person inside out who was always kind and caring to everyone around her.
Emma actually took cheerleading quite seriously as it was her passion. As per one of her senior’s claims, the 16-year-old not only enjoyed leading the squad at events but also loved the football games that followed. In fact, all was going well for her until the last few weeks before her demise. On the fateful morning of November 21, 2016, after 6 am, Emma was found dead on her bed by her mother. In utter disbelief, she reached out to the authorities and filled them in on the situation.
What first appeared to be a suicide turned out to be a possible homicide as detectives found a couple of bullet holes in the walls of Emma’s room. Upon inspecting the crime scene and the property, they discovered two shell casings right outside the house, hinting that two rounds had been fired at her. While one bullet had struck her behind her left ear, the second one had lodged right into her pillow. So, the police launched an investigation without wasting any time whatsoever.
A Toxic Relationship Was The Reason Behind Emma’s Death
Once the police were done taping the crime scene and collecting the evidence, they began interviewing Emma’s family, friends, and neighbors, who could be potential witnesses to the crime. In almost all the interviews they held that day, the name William Riley Gaul was a common occurrence. He was the 18-year-old former boyfriend of the victim and the two had a long history, dating back to nearly two years prior to the fateful day. They’d actually broken up relatively recently.
It all began in the fall of 2014 on the campus of Central High School, where Emma caught the attention of Riley Gaul, the wide receiver of the football team. Sooner rather than later, the two started dating, and he made positive first impressions on her parents. As for the opinions of her friends, they said she appeared happy with Riley in the early stages of the relationship, filling her social media with their pictures together. However, over time, it seemed like he became controlling and possessive, as he allegedly did not want her to spend time with anyone else other than him. In the next two years, the couple broke up and got back together multiple times.
When things got tense between Emma and Riley, he used to send her hateful texts on Snapchat, which he regretted later and apologized for. These constant bickerings and toxicity alarmed her parents, who wanted her to cut ties with him for good. They even banned Riley from their home and took away her cell phone, but that could not stop the teens from communicating and continuing their relationship. In 2016, Riley graduated from school and joined a nearby college while Emma was in her junior year of high school. But around the time of Halloween that same year, Emma was grounded and not allowed to leave the house, except for school and cheerleading.
Soon, Emma broke up with Riley yet again, but this time it seemed final, which is why he did not take it well and tried taking his own life by swallowing Vicodin pills followed by alcohol. Thankfully, he survived. Still grounded, Emma was finally allowed out of her house to attend a gathering at a friend’s house on November 18, 2016. There, she told one of her classmates, Zach Greene, about some strange text messages she had been receiving of late. She believed that one of Riley’s friends was pranking her, but when she threatened to go to the police, the messages became all the more disturbing.
Later in the gathering, Emma told Zach that the text suggested that Riley was dropped outside the house. When they went to check, they found Riley lying face down in a ditch near the property where the gathering was. When Emma emphasized that they had broken up and told him to leave her alone, he walked back alone and told his friend Noah Walton that he had been kidnapped that night. Moreover, when Emma got back home the following morning, she saw a stranger in black clothing ringing her doorbell again and again. Afraid that she was in danger, she called Riley to keep her company.
When Emma’s mother, Jill, found out about the two incidents, she found it odd that Riley had appeared at both events and suspected that he was playing games with her to get her attention. Worried about her daughter, Jill watched over her and followed her to ensure that she was safe. Just when things started going back to normalcy, on the morning of November 21, 2016, Emma was found killed in her bed. So, when the detectives were looking for any kind of intel on Riley, one of his friends, Alex McCarty, told them that the suspect had admitted to stealing his grandfather’s gun just a couple of days prior to the killing. Another friend, Walton, told the police that Riley had asked him about getting one’s fingerprints off a gun. Finally, they brought Riley in for questioning and asked him about his whereabouts at the time of the murder. He claimed that he tried to get in touch with Emma but couldn’t. He said that he went to his grandparents’ house and headed to his college where he cried over Emma for a couple of hours. When asked about his grandfather’s gun, he straight away denied talking about it with McCarty and asking Walton about the fingerprints.
After the interrogation, the police collaborated with Walton and McCarty to set up a sting operation. They wired both of them with microphones and a hidden video camera as they aided Riley is disposing of the potential murder weapon. Despite all the risks and dangers, the two were very determined to do it regardless. As the operation was a success, the police recovered the gun and various other pieces of evidence, including black clothing and gloves, which point to Riley being the strange man who appeared in front of Emma’s house dressed in black.
In light of all the evidence, Riley Gaul was arrested on charges of first-degree murder and other felonies, including theft of a firearm and aggravated stalking. In May 2018, the 19-year-old man, Riley, was convicted of the said charges, and since a first-degree murder conviction in Tennessee meant a life sentence, he was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. After the sentencing, the convict apologized to the Walkers and stated, “I’m sorry I took Emma away from you, that I robbed you of the experience of watching your daughter grow up. What I can do is tell the truth about that night… I wanted to scare her… I never meant to take Emma’s life. Again I am sorry.”
Read More: Where is Riley Goul Now?