Longform

Jennifer Longdon Wears Her Heart on Her Facebook Page

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That life together revolved around martial arts. They'd wake up and do 1,000 kicks each, then shower and eat breakfast — and then train. Longdon recalls that even as she was brushing her teeth at night, Rueckert was coaching her — correcting her stance, giving advice. He was training for his next world competition. She dreamed of competing for a world title, too.

At 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds, Rueckert was a "beautiful specimen of humanity," Longdon says sighing, describing him as a "bastard of a perfectionist" — but also goofy and romantic. They both loved to scuba dive, and she remembers a trip to Mexico, where he found a ring-shaped shell on the beach, and proposed.

"Sí, mañana," she said, laughing. It became a joke between them.

Longdon pauses to turn off a burner and pour hot water for tea. The counters in her small North Phoenix home are low, designed for her wheelchair to slide underneath. Next to her on the counter, a mini-command center: phone, TV remotes, laptop, a glass of water.

By fall 2004, both Longdon and Rueckert were exhausted. It had been a tough year. Things had gotten even messier on Rueckert's end, and they desperately needed to get away. They did, on a 14-day dive trip.

"It was idyllic. It was Fiji," she says, running her hand along the kitchen counter, an unconscious effort to smooth things out or maybe to keep the memories at bay. "No clocks, no locks, no phones."

It was a wonderful trip; the two relaxed, dove, and began to make solid wedding plans. And then it was time to go home.

Longdon recalls a custom in Fiji — as visitors leave the island they are given flowers to throw in the water. If your flower drifts out to sea, you aren't coming back. If it returns to you, you will return to Fiji.

Longdon and Rueckert shared a flower, standing together and throwing it into the water together.

The flower sank.


Back home, Longdon was jet-lagged and preoccupied with luggage — her scuba gear was missing. She saw her son as soon as she could, and broke the news that she was getting married.

Suddenly, it was Monday morning. She and Rueckert weren't back 36 hours, but they each worked a full day, then got into his red truck to go home. Longdon knew the refrigerator was empty, so she offered a choice: grocery shop for salad ingredients or split a carnitas torta from a drive-thru.

That's how Longdon and Rueckert ended up at the Filiberto's at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard at 9 p.m. on November 15, 2004.

She shivers, pulling a sweatshirt around her shoulders, and keeps going.

"We pull in. It was a beautiful night — the kind of night that we live here for."

The two were holding hands, talking about the wedding. Just as they turned in, he said something funny — she doesn't remember what — and she laughed then sighed.

Then she heard a screech. "Another truck sideswiped us."

Rueckert parked.

The shots began. Some trauma patients black out, but Londgon says she has a memory of the entire incident, start to finish.

"David's window . . . just spiderwebbed. It shattered. I remember watching that pattern in slow motion. It was beautiful."

In a quiet voice, Rueckert said, "Get down."

She was confused. He threw himself over her.

"Someone was firing, and it was loud. God, it was loud."

She grabbed her cellphone and tried to call 911, but she couldn't get a signal at first.

At her feet in a cooler: Rueckert's .45-caliber Glock, which he'd stored at the office while he was out of town.

"David was well-versed in how to use that gun," she says. And he did reach over and flip the lid on the cooler, she recalls, and reached for the gun.

"And then he didn't." She doesn't know why.

Londgon remembers three shots — then it stopped. They both sat up, and he put the car in gear. The shots started again.

With the last one, "I felt this burning," she says.

"David had been speaking to me. Then all of the sudden his words just melted."

He'd been shot several times, including in the brain. And his foot was still on the gas.

"I saw a palm tree coming at us."

The airbag deployed. Longdon was hot. She couldn't breathe. She opened the truck door and gulped in cold air, then froze as Rueckert's door opened.

"I just knew that there was going to be a bullet in my brain."

Instead, a man told her he was an off-duty paramedic.

The bullet had traveled through the body of the truck and into the seat, stopping inside Longdon's body.

"Tell my son I love him," she told the EMTs, dry-eyed as she tells the story. They took Rueckert first ('til then, she'd figured he was dead), and suddenly she was on a gurney going backward.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.