CHADRON, NEB. | Paris Fisher, mayor of this city tucked into the northwest corner of Nebraska, was wrestling with his memories Wednesday afternoon.
He was wondering how his fashion-conscious daughter would always work so hard to look so good, yet still enjoy strapping herself into her boyfriend’s truck and going mud-bogging.
“My daughter never had a hair out of place,” he recalled. “She put on makeup, her hair was done up, and she wore great shoes just to go get the mail.
"The day she was killed," he said, "she wore fashion sunglasses and a cute outfit, just to go boating."
That daughter, 33-year-old Gabrielle Fisher, known as Gabby to friends and family, and the mother of two young children, was killed in a boating accident last Friday on Pactola Reservoir west of Rapid City. Her body was recovered Tuesday by the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office Water Rescue Team.
She and her fiancé, Mike Barck, of Rapid City, reportedly had purchased their new boat last week and headed to the lake for a weekend with friends that turned tragic.
“We’ve talked about her funeral, having her cremated and we laughed that we should have her ashes put in a shoe box, because she would feel right at home,” Fisher said sadly. “But, we’re not going to do that.”
According to Fisher, two boats, including the one in which Gabby was riding, were traveling together in the Jenny Gulch area of the lake when a personal watercraft driven by Jody Kreycik attempted to jump the first boat's wake.
It landed on the second.
Mayor Fisher said his daughter took the full impact of the watercraft and was thrown into the reservoir. The boat sank and was found over the weekend, while the search for Gabby’s body continued through an agonizing four days.
Kreycik was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter and boating under the influence. He was treated for injuries and booked into jail on a $25,000 bond. In South Dakota, second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. Boating under the influence carries a sentence of up to 1 year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.
Mayor Fisher claims his daughter was among the hardest-working women he ever met. Even with her penchant for perfection, she often would visit her parents' farm two miles north of Chadron and spend the afternoon helping out.
“More than anything, she loved to come to our farm,” he said. “She’d buck hay, feed the animals, and muck stalls. And, she’d always come out smelling like a rose.”
That affinity for hard work led Gabby to cosmetology school in Provo, Utah, where she stayed with her grandparents and learned her profession. Moving to Rapid City, she spent years with Black Hills Dermatology, returned to school to learn the art of applying permanent makeup, then opened Fresh Woven Studio at Sola Salons in downtown Rapid City.
This week, business associates recalled an entrepreneurial spirit and exceptional stylist revered by others in her profession.
“Gabby was one of the first stylists to come over to Sola Salon, and we got to know her,” salon founder Nicole Ossenfort said Wednesday. “She had a passion for helping women feel good about themselves and feel beautiful. She just had a gift for that, and she brought a lot of joy to so many people.”
Ossenfort, owner of Liberty Tax Service and a nationwide speaker and trainer on business and leadership, said Gabby “was living the entrepreneurial dream, and other stylists in the community really looked up to her.”
“I was just in shock when I learned of this terrible, terrible tragedy and, in some ways, I still am,” Ossenfort said. “It’s important that people understand what she left behind and the beauty she brought to other people’s lives. We have lost an absolutely beautiful soul who cared about others.”
Gabby’s father agreed. Not only did the young woman never forget to telephone her grandmother in Utah or her big brother, an attorney in Washington state, she scrubbed floors and toilets at her business and embraced an entrepreneurial spirit in an effort to make her business a success, he said.
“This was a great loss for the community of Rapid City as well as us individually,” he said. “Gabby may have been little in the scheme of things, but she was the fabric of your community, the type of woman and businessperson that your town searches the country to bring in. You don’t just replace a Gabby.”
Outpouring of love
In recent days, as word of the tragedy spread, Mayor Fisher said he had fielded dozens of calls from people he had never met, all of whom said that his daughter wasn’t just their beautician, but their friend and confidante.
“Her clients just absolutely adored her,” he said, before breaking into sobs. “She loved fiercely. If she was your friend, she was your friend forever. She’d stand up for you, hit you upside the head to make sure you were in the right place, and if you needed something, she was always there. You didn’t have to ask. She just showed up at your house.”
Amid the outpouring of condolences, Mayor Fisher had a reminder for those of faith.
“I could not live in a better community,” he said. “We are so grateful for the outpouring of love. We ask the community, which has been so supportive, to also pray for (Jody Kreycik) and his family; for as we have lost a daughter they have lost a son.
“Our prayers are with him,” Fisher added. “We are heartbroken beyond heartbroken, but we are not vengeful toward this man.”
Strong in her faith, inexorably linked to her family, Gabby still struggled as all single mothers are wont to do, her dad said. Her greatest challenge may have been in the kitchen, he recalled.
“She always wanted to be a good cook, but she struggled with that,” Mayor Fisher recalled. “Her favorite meal was carry-out.
“When she graduated from high school, she wanted to fix a dinner she had learned in home economics,” he said, laughing. “She came home and made macaroni and cheese for us. She worked so hard on it, but you can’t even imagine how bad it came out. She left the house crying and threw it in the dumpster. Fifteen years later, it’s still there. Seriously, it’s petrified to the side of the dumpster.”
The proud mayor of Chadron, who with his wife of 37 years has run Paris Fisher Auto for decades, says there is a hole in his heart that can never be filled.
“My faith is going to carry me through this and my daughter is going to carry me past tomorrow,” Mayor Fisher said. “I have never gone through anything harder, but I am going to get through this.”
In remembrance, the family has planned two services for Gabby. The first will be at 2 p.m., Aug. 28, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Faith Center on Canyon Lake Drive in Rapid City; the second at 10 a.m., Sept. 1, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chadron, on what would have been Gabby’s 34th birthday.
Following the services, Gabby will be buried on the family farm, “always a place of great refuge for my girl,” her father said.
Several months ago, Mayor Fisher inexplicably commissioned a Sioux Falls artist to paint a portrait of his daughter. A week ago, the artist delivered the painting, and Paris Fisher drove north to Rapid City, where he unveiled the painting and shared dinner with Gabby, her fiancé and her son and daughter.
On Wednesday, just days after the accident, the artist called Mayor Fisher to ask if his daughter was pleased with the creation.
“She didn’t know what had happened, and she told me about the relationship she had developed with Gabby, and how they became friends on Facebook,” he said. “I had to tell her Gabby had been killed. She said, `I am putting everything away so I can come to her service.’”
To this day, Mayor Fisher isn’t certain why he had Gabby’s portrait painted.
“There’s no way to explain it,” he said. “There’s no words. I can’t tell you why, but just as with everything in Gabby’s life, the air just radiated around her and she drew people together.
“I am beyond brokenhearted, but Gabby wouldn’t have wanted anyone to be sad,” he added, his voice trailing off with the memory of a daughter dearly loved. “She would be doing what she could to fix it, to spread love and joy in everyone’s life.”