- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. (AP) - Before bed at night, 86-year-old Dale Knight prays for death so he can join his wife in heaven.

His granddaughter, 39-year-old Kelly Miller lies awake at night, unable to switch off visions of her grandfather holding his wife of 65 years in his arms as she bled to death.

Miller’s youngest daughter, 6-year-old Zoe Lou, keeps a second-grade journal with crayon sketches. One of the drawings is her great-grandmother wearing her favorite pink shirt - lying in an open casket adorned with red roses.

Grief still consumes generations of Betty Lou Knight’s family five months after she was shot in the neck while sitting with her husband on her back porch. Eighty-four-year-old Knight described as the family’s matriarch and her ailing husband’s caretaker, died within minutes of being shot.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1PljzyLm ) reports that the unexplained June 26 shooting shook Knight’s quiet suburban Sandalwood subdivision near Oakville and left her family and neighbors wondering who fired the fatal bullet and why the case has yet to be solved.

“I’ve never experienced grief this profound,” Miller, of Webster Groves, said. “How could you not have compassion as a human being to see other people suffering, to know that you took someone’s life and just say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I caused you this pain?’”

St. Louis County police say they are still investigating the case. But Knight’s relatives say they are frustrated with the lack of progress and communication from police, who have yet to make an arrest. Police did take the case to prosecutors in August, seeking charges against a man who lives in the neighborhood, apparently under the theory that a stray bullet fired by the man struck Knight. Prosecutors declined to issue charges because of insufficient evidence.

Police won’t discuss the case publicly other than what they’ve already released: Knight was shot about 3:30 p.m. that day while sitting next to her husband on her back porch. He called 911 after seeing her bleeding from the neck, but it was too late to save her. He was ruled out as a suspect.

Betty Knight’s family said the bullet sailed through a half-wall of the covered back porch, zipped past Dale Knight and hit Betty Knight in the neck. She was shot while checking her Facebook page on her iPad.

Neighbors interviewed by the Post-Dispatch said that shortly after the shooting, detectives collected guns from nearby homes for ballistics testing and questioned people about a neighbor’s reported habit of shooting squirrels in his backyard. He is the man police eventually sought charges against. Authorities served a search warrant at the man’s home, but documents related to the search are sealed.

The man police sought charges against is in his 70s and lives on a block adjacent to the Knight family home. He declined to comment. The Post-Dispatch is not identifying him because he has not been arrested or charged.

Police have told the Knight family they have been unable to find a gun that matches the deadly bullet.

“We’re pretty sure we know who did it,” said the victim’s daughter, 59-year-old Cindy Johnson of Bella Villa. “But because there’s no gun, it’s hard to prove it.”

Questions about the case have been circulating the neighborhood for months, and Knight’s family says they have grown weary of being asked about it when running errands around town.

“We’re so disappointed and frustrated about everything stalling and nothing happening,” Johnson said.

After the shooting of Knight, detectives told the family they found another, older bullet hole in the side of the house. Some residents in the Knight family’s subdivision said they were aware of a neighbor’s penchant for shooting squirrels and have seen squirrel carcasses in his backyard.

Eric Arenz, who lives near the suspect’s home, said he has spotted dead squirrels in the man’s yard and his own but doesn’t know why they were there. He said he willingly provided police a pellet gun and .22-caliber rifle he said he hadn’t fired in three decades. Authorities haven’t said what caliber bullet killed Knight. Detectives returned the guns to Arenz months ago and told him they were close to solving the case, Arenz said. Now, he, too, wonders why there has been no update on the investigation.

“It’s a crying shame,” 76-year-old Arenz said of the shooting.

Betty Knight was a grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of five. Her family described her as a “total housewife” who was in “perfect health.” Her daughters said they were hoping to travel the world in whatever time she had left to live.

“She had good years left,” said Johnson. “She did not deserve to die like this.”

She had nicknames such as “Grandma Birdie” because she loved watching birds crowd her backyard feeders and “Mother Nature” because of her nurturing personality and passion for gardening. They said she also left treats out for the squirrels and didn’t mind when they commandeered the bird feeders.

“She made everybody feel so loved and special,” Miller said. “She was just magic.”

Betty Knight’s husband has not coped well with her death and has lost about 20 pounds, relatives say. He didn’t want to be interviewed for this story, but his daughters said he routinely recalls gory details of the shooting. They said he recently spoke of a dream he had where he strangled the person who shot his wife, and they said it briefly made him feel better. But that anger has turned into a deep depression.

“He’s just like hopeless now,” Miller said. “He doesn’t understand why nothing’s happened.”

His daughters say they sometimes overhear him in his bedroom asking God to take his life.

“He says, Please, Lord, take me. I want to be with Betty. I can’t live without her,’” Johnson said.

Miller’s youngest children are often scared to be alone and cry when they talk about Betty Knight. Her son, 4-year-old Ryder worries about “bad guys” when he hears strange noises and talks about how guns can kill people. Zoe Lou shows her best friends the homemade dolls that her great-grandmother made her and smells the fabric because it reminds her of her great-grandmother.

Miller wants to keep her grandmother’s memory alive. And to help her family feel closer to her, Miller is sewing heart-patterned pillows for her four children using fabric from Betty Knight’s old clothing. Miller said she is also making a baby blanket out of her grandmother’s old clothes for a cousin, who is expecting a child soon.

Meanwhile, the family still clings to the faint chance the person who fired the gun will come forward. They’re pleading with anyone who might know anything about the crime or the gun that was used to call CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

“It’s hard to mourn and grieve someone when anger is getting in the way,” Miller said.

If nothing else, they say, they want an apology from whoever fired the shot.

“He’s a chicken, a coward,” Johnson said. “And if he would have come forward in the beginning, I would have forgiven him. Just tell me you’re sorry. Tell me you’re sorry.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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