Dozens of drivers crawling along in Sunday traffic on a busy St. Louis-area highway watched in horror as a woman, bleeding from a gunshot wound, leapt from a car and across several lanes of traffic, banging on vehicle windows and begging for help before her boyfriend chased her down and shot her in the head, then killed himself, authorities said.
The violence unfolded Sunday afternoon in the most public of places, but authorities had little more to go on than terrified drivers' accounts in trying to figure out why it happened. It happened so quickly that most had no time to help.
Tommie Hill, who lived in East St. Louis, Ill., killed Ashley Oliver, from nearby Cahokia, Ill., within sight of Hill's 7-year-old daughter, who was sitting about 50 feet away in the car.
"I don't know what started this," Sgt. Dave Wasmuth said. "And we may never know."
Police started receiving 911 calls about 2 p.m., Wasmuth said. Some callers said there'd been what they thought might be a traffic accident, while others were clear about what they'd seen: a shooting, right there on Interstate 64 just west of the Mississippi River and St. Louis' Gateway Arch.
Oliver, according to the account police pulled together from witnesses, jumped out of the car, probably with it still moving, and started running to other vehicles heading slowly north on the freeway. The 25-year-old was shot at least once either just before or after she got out of the car, Wasmuth said.
An autopsy found Oliver was shot three times in all, once in her right shoulder, once in the right side of the neck, and finally on the right side of her head, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone said. It wasn't clear just when the first two shots were fired.
Oliver begged for help from people inside other vehicles, banging on their windows as Hill, also 25, quickly closed in, Wasmuth said.
At least one driver to started to roll down his window, "until we saw that gun," Scott Cross, 38, of East St. Louis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Hill pulled the semiautomatic handgun from his pants and shot Oliver one last time, Wasmuth and witnesses said. Then he put the gun to the right side of his own head and fired. He died there on the pavement, Stone said.
Oliver was taken to a hospital in East St. Louis, where she died at 3:48 p.m. Sunday, the coroner said.
The chase was brief, and the shooting happened quickly, too quickly to give anyone on the freeway a realistic chance to help, Wasmuth said. "There was no time for anybody to intervene."
Hill's body lay in the middle eastbound lane of the highway for a while as traffic crawled by in the passing lane. Police later shut down a section of the highway for about three hours.
Wasmuth said Monday that he'd turned up no orders of protection or other signs that Hill and Oliver were headed toward the kind of tragedy that played out Sunday afternoon.
The only witness to what happened in the car appears to be Hill's daughter, who wasn't hurt and is now with her mother. Given her age and what she saw, Wasmuth said police are taking their time interviewing her and don't expect to learn much.
"I don't even think the girl in the car knows what it was, what set it off," he said.
Hill's uncle, Tyrone Cameron, said he spoke to Hill about an hour before the shootings and heard nothing that concerned him.
The couple, Cameron told the Post-Dispatch, "had their ups and downs, but I never thought it would come to this."
Wasmuth, who is based in nearby Collinsville, said he didn't know Hill, but some other officers who work in the area said they were familiar with him.
Hill had a long criminal record, including a conviction for cocaine possession and delivery in 2004 that led him to spend almost three years behind bars, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections. St. Clair County court records show he was due in court in next month after being charged with possession of marijuana and again in September over a pair of criminal trespass on state property charges.
The gun Hill used Sunday, Wasmuth said, was reported stolen several years ago in Mississippi.