Emma Walker, 16, was sleeping at home in her bed in North Knox County, Tennessee, in November 2016, when two shots were fired into her bedroom, one of which hit her in the head, killing her instantly, officials said. In an interview with ABC’s 20/20, lead detective Knox County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Allen Merritt said in the course of their investigation, the name of Walker’s ex-boyfriend, William Riley Gaul, came up a lot.
According to investigators, Gaul had also gone through a series of attempts to get Walker’s attention, such as falsely claiming he’d been kidnapped, Knox News wrote. During Gaul’s trial, the jury heard that Gaul fired two shots into her bedroom wall at the area where she was sleeping and then went back to his dorm at Maryville College and fell asleep, Knox News reported.
Walker was a junior at Central High School where she participated in several clubs and was a cheerleader, her obituary shows. She’d met Gaul when she was a freshman and he was a junior and they began an on-and-off relationship, ABC News reported. Shortly before her death, Walker had ended her relationship with Gaul, who was a football player at Maryville College.
Her Ex-Boyfriend Riley Gaul Was Arrested Shortly After Her Murder Following a Surveillance Operation
Walker was found dead at home the morning of November 21, 2016, and investigators arrested her ex-boyfriend on the evening of November 22. He had been under surveillance and authorities stepped in as they thought he was about to destroy evidence related to Walker’s murder, Knox News reported at the time.
Authorities said Gaul stole his grandfather’s gun from his vehicle, a 9mm Glock, and fired the two shots into Walker’s home. After the crime was committed, he asked his friends Alex McCarty and Noah Walton to help him dispose of the evidence. Unbeknownst to Gaul, McCarty and Walton had spoken to authorities about their suspicions and helped them arrest the college football player, Knox News wrote.
The jury in Gaul’s murder trial ultimately found the football player guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
Walker’s Mother Is Working to Raise Awareness About Domestic Violence & Abuse
Walker’s mother, Jill Walker, described the teenager to 10News as “Very positive, she always saw the best in people.” She said Walker was a dedicated student who had dreams of becoming a NICU nurse and added, “We heard later people would come and tell me stories about how she was always sweet and kind.”
Her mother said she knew before her daughter’s murder that there was “emotional abuse” in her relationship with Gaul. She told the outlet she’d discussed with Walker what her boyfriend was doing: “Conversations like you don’t have parents…you don’t have a family…you only have me,” she said Walker revealed Gaul would tell her. “She did realize what was going on was negative,” Jill Walker continued, “And she did break up with him about three weeks prior to her murder.”
She said that it’s important to her to keep Walker’s memory alive and to help victims of abuse and domestic violence have a voice. “We need to educate our adults but also our teenagers who don’t have the experience to know any better,” Jill Walker told 10News.