hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News May 2023



Local ‘wrong house’ killing adds to national outcry


The shooting death last month of a 20-year-old Schuylerville woman who turned up the wrong driveway stunned people across Washington and Saratoga counties and quickly became part of a national outcry over gun violence.

Kaylin Gillis was killed after she and several friends were searching for another friend’s house about 10 p.m. Saturday, April 15, and drove up a long unpaved driveway on Patterson Hill Road in the rural Washington County town of Hebron. Authorities said the group realized they were at the wrong house and were turning around to leave when the homeowner came out onto his front porch and fired two blasts of a 20-gauge shotgun at the car in which Gillis was a front-seat passenger.

The group of seven young people – traveling in two cars and on a motorcycle – had never left their vehicles or approached the house, police said. Instead, the group quickly left and traveled about five miles before they could get a cellular signal to call for help. Emergency workers met the group on Cemetery Road in Salem but were unable to revive Gillis.

The homeowner, Kevin D. Monahan, a self-employed building contractor, was taken into custody after a standoff with police that lasted several hours. He was charged with second-degree murder.

The Times Union of Albany reported that, at a press conference two days after the killing, Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy described Gillis as “an innocent young girl who was out with friends looking for another friend’s house” and later added that there “was no reason for Mr. Monahan to feel threatened.”

The sheriff said he had known Gillis personally and that “I know for a fact that she comes from a good family.” Gillis’ father works for the Sheriff’s Office as a correction officer at the Washington County jail.

Monahan, 65, was sent to the Warren County jail, where he remained at the end of April after a judge denied his bail request.

Andrew Gillis, Kaylin’s father, told reporters after Monahan’s bail hearing that his daughter was a high school honors student who had dreams of becoming a marine biologist or a veterinarian. She had planned to attend college in Florida.

“This man took that away from us,” he said.
The Post-Star of Glens Falls reported that teachers and administrators at Schuylerville High School described the 2021 graduate as a bright, friendly, creative young woman who particularly excelled in art classes and as a member of the competition cheerleading team.

Monahan’s defense lawyer, Kurt Mausert, told the Associated Press that he couldn’t discuss details of the shooting because of the pending criminal case, but he insisted that the facts of the incident were more complicated than what the sheriff had described.

“I believe we have a series of mistakes that led to a tragedy,” Mausert said. “But I don’t believe my client is a villain. … Not every case with a tragedy has a villain, and I think this is one of them.”

Several neighbors and local acquaintances of Monahan, however, described him in local and national news reports as difficult, hostile and very concerned about keeping trespassers off his 40-acre property.

The Times Union reported that Christian Morris, the Washington County first assistant district attorney, characterized the defendant as “confrontational and hot-tempered.” Morris cited a recent incident at the county Department of Motor Vehicles office in which he said Monahan created a disturbance and began taking photos of county workers after being told he had to set up an appointment. He also pointed to a 2001 arrest in Vermont in which Monahan was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon, although that charge ultimately was dismissed.

Two days before Kaylin Gillis was killed, authorities in Kansas City said an 84-year-old homeowner shot and badly injured a 16-year-old boy who came to his door. The teenager was trying to pick up his two younger brothers, who had been visiting a friend, but had gone to the wrong house.

The two cases quickly became linked in national news reports along with other cases of “wrong address” shootings from around the country.

The New York Times, in a story published April 20, detailed a series of them: a maintenance man in North Carolina who knocked on the door of a second-floor apartment to repair damage from a leak and was shot by the tenant (it turned out the damaged apartment was on the first floor); a teenager in Georgia who was shot dead when he knocked on the door of what he thought was his girlfriend’s apartment after midnight in a complex with a series of nearly identical buildings; a Virginia man accused of shooting at three lost teenagers who had pulled onto his property; a Tennessee man who fired at two cable company workers who mistakenly crossed his land; and a pair of high school cheerleaders who were shot in Texas after one of them accidently tried to get into the wrong car in a supermarket parking lot.

The Times report said activists and researchers attributed the increase in these incidents to a combination of factors – “increased fear of crime and an attendant surge in gun ownership, increasingly extreme political messaging on firearms, fearmongering in the media, and marketing campaigns by the gun industry that portray the suburban front door as a fortified barrier against a violent world.”

And the Times Union columnist Chris Churchill put the blame on what he called a “metastasizing culture of fear.”

“The gun alone can’t explain the insanity. It’s the how, certainly, but not the why,” he wrote. “None of this is to say that it isn’t natural to feel your pulse quicken when there’s a knock at the door or an unfamiliar car in the driveway late at night. But something’s wrong if we automatically assume the stranger has come to do us harm. Maybe the person needs help. Shouldn’t that be our first instinct? Something is far more wrong if the immediate reaction is to grab a gun and begin firing.”

-- Compiled by Fred Daley