In 2014, a skilled and popular young wide receiver at a Tennessee high school began dating a cheerleader named Emma Walker. The football player, Riley Gaul, was being carefully eyed by many college and NFL teams, as he was expected to be something of a star.
Over two years, his relationship with the bubbly and popular Emma soured, however. What started as a cute high school romance turned into a dangerous obsession.
Riley was highly abusive to Emma, sending her scathing messages over Snapchat before doing a one-eighty and apologizing profusely. His hot-and-cold behavior sent Emma on an emotional roller coaster, and her parents began to resent Riley’s presence in her life. Eventually, the two broke it off, though Riley continued to stalk and harass Emma.
As time went on, Riley’s obsession with Emma grew stronger. He seemed to want complete control over her life. He resented any male students who spoke with her, and loathed the idea of not being central to her life. His friends reported that he constantly talked about her, referring to her as “his” and disparaging her choice to not be in a relationship with him.
Riley began to stalk Emma while dressed all in black. He posed as a stranger attempting to break into her house in order to scare her. His plan, he revealed to authorities, was to scare her into coming back to him. She did text him after this event, saying that she “hated” him but that she “needed” him then.
One night in 2016, Emma was shot in her sleep. Her parents came upstairs to find she had no pulse, and there was a splash of blood on her pillow. Authorities were unable to find a shell casing, and the family hadn’t noticed any gunshots the night before.
However, an investigation revealed two bullet holes in the walls of her bedroom, and two spent shell casings in the back yard behind her room.
Investigators quickly built their case. They alleged that Riley had stolen a gun from his father and brought it to Emma’s house. He then fired through the wall at exactly where her head would be resting on the pillow. He fired from two different angles, but they converged on Emma’s head.
Riley’s defense? He claimed that he was just trying to scare her, again. The jury in his case didn’t buy this, however, and found him guilty on charges of murder. He’s been sentenced to life in prison, and Emma’s family has found some semblance of justice.