News

'His daddy died a hero': Family looks forward after Red Rose shooting

Written by Sam Ruland/The York Daily Record | Jul 24, 2018 9:04 AM
Jessica Godden and children.JPG

From left: Jessica Godden with Layton Merrill (Chad Merrill's son) and her other son Aden Vogel at their home in Lower Windsor Township Monday. Chad Merrill was shot to death after defending a friend in a "racial incident." Vogel lost his father in 2011. (Paul Kuehnel/York Daily Record)

When her phone vibrated in the early hours of Saturday morning, Jessica Godden's initial reaction was to ignore it. Her 5-month-old son lay on her chest sleeping and she was not about to disturb him. 

"I thought, if it's important they'll call me back," Godden said.

She fell asleep. But the calls persisted and she finally rose from her position on the couch to check her phone.

It was 3 a.m. and she sensed something was wrong. The name on her cell phone revealed that it was the mother of her son's father calling. It was then, looking at the phone, that her demeanor and attitude changed -- she froze.

She looked at her son, took a deep breath, and returned the call.

"I just knew," Godden said. "I answered and she was crying and I just knew it wasn't good."

With that one phone call, her world changed.

Chad Merrill, the father of her 5-month-old son, Layton, had been killed at Red Rose Restaurant and Lounge in Hellam Township. He was shot in the chest after defending a black man who was being called hateful, racial slurs.

More: The family started a GoFundMe fundraiser for funeral costs

Anyone might describe this as their worst fear, but Godden has actually been in this nightmare before. The father of her 9-year-old son, Aden, is also dead, and now she has to start all over again.

"When I found out I was pregnant," Godden said, "I was terrified. I was really, really scared that it was going to happen again."

Eventually though, she said she convinced herself that everything would be OK. That is, until 3 a.m. Saturday.

And while the news of his death has left Godden in a state of shock, she said the way that he died -- defending someone else -- did not come as a surprise to her.

"He's the kind of the person that would give you the shirt off his back even if it was the last shirt he had," Godden said as she bounced Layton on her knee. She was attempting to soothe the infant who began to fuss beneath her. 

That was the kind of person that Chad was, his brother Bobby Merrill said -- he wanted everyone to get along. He wanted everyone to be happy.

"Chad didn't see things the way other people saw them," Bobby said struggling to get the words out of his mouth, hiccuping between sentences. "In his eyes he just thought that everybody was equal. He didn't understand why people didn't like other people for stupid things like race, or age, or whatever the case may be."

He just wanted everyone to get along, Bobby said. That's how he always was. 

"It's hard to wrap my head around this," Bobby said. "How do you just have so much hate inside of you that you kill someone?"

Godden said she isn't quite sure what possesses someone to do something like that either, to take another's life. She wondered if things would have turned out differently if Saylor had known he was shooting at someone with a child, with a family.

"You don't know if he has a son or not," Godden said, her voice getting louder and speech faster. "He had a family. He had so many people that loved him. He's had an effect on so many people, I don't even think he realized."

Tears welled in Godden's eyes and 9-year-old Aden brought her a tissue to wipe her face. Both of her children nestled close to her on the couch in their home.

Chad Merrill mug.jpg

Chad Merrill was killed in a shooting in the parking lot of Red Rose Restaurant and Lounge in Hellam Township on July 21. (Photo: Submitted)

She said when she first learned of Merrill's death, she struggled to express this kind of emotion in front of her children. It made her feel guilty. 

"It was hard," Godden said, taking a deep breath before speaking again. Layton sat on her lap and gripped her finger as she looked down and smiled at him. "It was hard to even pick him up yesterday."

"I didn't want to cry and stress him out," Godden said, now bouncing her son on her lap. "I didn't want him getting upset, because he can sense when I'm upset."

This is something that has been on Bobby's mind too -- how he will help his nephew know his father. Right now he wonders if it will ever not be painful to talk about Chad, but he said he knows he has to.

"He was the best dad," Bobby said. "He would do anything to make this little boy laugh, and I want him to know that. I'll make sure he knows his dad was a hero."

Godden said even though her and Merrill were not in a relationship, they had a friendship, and that was something she will also remember.

She's not sure how she will tell her son that his father is dead. But as her son grows, and begins to ask questions, it's a reality she'll have to face. 

"He's going to grow up and not have anyone to call daddy," Godden said, "but we won't let him forget."

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record

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