The morning of November 21st, 2016 began like any other for Jill Walker – until a mother’s worst nightmare became reality. Upon going to awaken her 17-year-old daughter Emma for school, Jill discovered the unthinkable: her daughter was murdered in her own bed.

Emma Walker lay unresponsive, immediately indicating she was deceased though with little external evidence of violence – save for the single bullet hole piercing the teenage girl’s left temple. Emma had been shot dead in her sleep.

As investigators searched the scene, two additional bullet holes in the exterior house wall and matching 9mm casings in the backyard pointed to a sinister conclusion: this was a homicide staged to look like a suicide or a random burglary.

Someone intended to murder Emma Walker and then cover the killer’s identity. But who? And what could drive such a brutal betrayal?

The Tragic Murder of Teen Cheerleader Emma Walker By Her Ex-Boyfriend

Just nine days after her desperate plea for help, Emma Walker’s life was stolen from her – shot dead in her bedroom by none other than Riley Gaul himself.

This is the devastating story of Emma Walker and Riley Gaul’s tragic relationship spiral culminating in murder – an extreme example of teenage dating violence and the high stakes of ignoring red flags.

Primary Suspect Immediately Apparent

Interviewing Emma’s inner circle of friends, one name rang out repeatedly as having motive and opportunity: her abusive ex-boyfriend Riley Gaul.

Riley Gaul continued to repeatedly contact Emma Walker after their breakup.

Described as growing obsessed after Emma attempted to end their stormy 2-year relationship, Gaul had continued tormenting her via threatening messages, manipulation, and stalking to regain control throughout October 2016.

Frightened, Emma obtained a restraining order against Riley on October 27th. But on November 12th, she texted a friend: “He won’t leave me alone. Can you stay on the phone in case he shows up here? I’m scared.”

Emma told others she felt watched by a mysterious lurker in her yard wearing all black and a hood – her greatest fear seeming to materialize. Nine days later, she was dead – the victim of a stealth intruder who entered through an unlocked second-floor bedroom window under the cover of night.

So when detectives noted Riley Gaul’s bizarre, distanced statements about “the girl” after Emma’s murder, refusing to even speak her name, alarm bells rang. Then there was his public mourning on social media as the investigation started. It seemed an obvious facade.

But with no technical evidence yet tying Gaul to the crime scene, police could only document their early suspicions. That critical break would have to come from elsewhere.

Friends Expose Disturbing Red Flags

Just days after Emma Walker’s murder, two of Riley Gaul’s college friends came forward to report his alarming behaviour and statements:

  • After Emma first left him in October, Gaul had attempted suicide by ingesting pills, indicating his despondent mindset.
  • On November 19th, Gaul asked the pair to accompany him in shooting his newly stolen grandfather’s gun for “protection.” Neither knew Emma Walker had been murdered just hours earlier.
  • After learning of her death, Gaul begged his friends’ help in disposing of the gun in the Tennessee River out of fear police would connect it to him even though he denied involvement.
  • One friend stated Gaul had researched how to remove fingerprints from a firearm when they previously expressed reluctance at getting rid of evidence.

For the students, alarm bells rang. Agreeing to wear hidden recording devices, they accompanied Riley Gaul to clandestinely dump the weapon in question – only for police to intervene first.

Sting Operation Catches Deceitful Killer Red-Handed

On November 28th, Gaul’s friends entered his vehicle wired with police microphones and cameras. Their recorded conversations over the 25-minute ride became Riley Gaul’s undoing.

Thinking it was just the three of them, Gaul referenced specifics of the crime only the killer could know – the obsolete burglary attempt staging with items moved around Emma’s room; her positioned body location; and the FBI assistance called in.

Gaul still denied firing the shots himself. But his intricate awareness of details painted a clear picture of guilt to police.

Officers swarmed the vehicle upon arrival at the river location to uncover Riley Gaul literally holding the smoking gun – and wearing an all-black disguise strikingly similar to what Emma told friends about the ominous stalker figure lurking outside her home before her murder.

Finally, in custody, Riley Gaul could no longer hide behind his lies and false grief. The deviant Sociopath had shown his true colours at last through friends brave enough to turn against him.

Overwhelming Evidence Leaves No Room for Defense

Formally charged with first-degree premeditated murder, stalking, theft, reckless endangerment and unlawful gun possession, Riley Gaul now faced a trial where his only path to avoid lifetime imprisonment hinged on claiming no intention to seriously physically harm Emma Walker the night he fired a deadly projectile into her skull.

But the proof mounted exposing Riley’s detailed plotting painted a very different picture of deep obsession spiralling into coldblooded murder:

  • Gunshot residue on clothing Riley wore the night of the attack forensically tied him to pulling the murder weapon’s trigger at Emma Walker’s exact time of death.
  • Store receipts showed Riley’s November 2nd purchase of the same brand of 9mm bullets used to kill Emma, exposing sinister premeditation.
  • Gaul’s internet search history focused on human anatomy weak points, methods for immobilizing victims, and techniques for muffling gunshots in the 48 hours prior. This also exposed deliberate, tactical planning inconsistent with his claims of merely trying to scare Emma the night of her murder.
  • Cell phone GPS and ping records placed Riley Gaul directly near the Walker home between 1-3 AM when neighbours reported hearing two loud bangs. Emma’s precise time of death was determined as approximately 2 AM – when Riley Gaul was tracked standing right outside her property.

Foiled Lies – Incriminating Evidence Leads To Conviction

Riley Gaul rushed to feign bereavement on social media as investigators initially considered suicide in Emma Walker’s death. But the discovery of suspicious bullet holes and 9mm casings quickly shifted attention.

While Gaul maintained a distraught face, cracks formed under questioning. Investigators noted inconsistencies in his statements and behaviour deemed strange for a grieving ex-boyfriend. Still, concrete evidence tying Gaul to the murder remained lacking – until two students came forward with a tip about his gun purchase a week before Emma’s death.

On November 28th, 2016, Riley Gaul was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, stalking, theft, reckless endangerment, and firearm possession during a felony.

The trial sealed his fate. Evidence presented included:

  • Gunshot residue on Gaul’s clothing from the morning of Emma’s murder.
  • Store surveillance video capturing Gaul buying the same ammunition used to kill Emma just 20 days prior.
  • Walmart video of an associate helping Gaul purchase lock-picking devices on the night of the murder.
  • Cell phone records prove Gaul was near Emma’s home when shots were fired around 2 AM that fateful night.

Despite his defence team’s assertions that Gaul had only meant to scare Emma, not cause physical harm, the proof was damning.

On May 8th, 2019, the jury unanimously found Riley Gaul guilty on all five counts including first-degree, pre-meditated murder. He received an automatic sentence of life behind bars, finally ending his obsessive torment of Emma Walker.

For Emma Walker’s family and friends, justice had been served – if tragically late. But the outcome stands as a stark warning for teens, parents and educators alike: extreme relationship obsessiveness, manipulation and refusal to accept rejection can spiral into violence without proper intervention.

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