Moving On After a Tragedy – A True Story of Faith, Family, and Friends

Moving On After a Tragedy – A True Story of Faith, Family, and Friends

On July 21, 1997, Robert Gabrielson, age 42, was shot and murdered by his own father in his own home. This is the account of his wife of 16 years, Isabelle, of what happened before, during, and after the tragedy. I met Isabelle shortly after the Bob’s passing, and she has been a faithful friend since our first meeting. For the past year, I had felt a holy nudge from the Lord to discuss with Isabelle the possibility of sharing her story with others because I felt the Lord stating she has a story to share. She agreed, and together we worked on this. As she spoke, I typed and cried and typed and cried bearing a very small segment of her hurt and sharing in her hope. We decided to work on this blog together for two reasons. The first is that Michael, their son, would always have a written record of his mother’s perspective on what happened July 21, 1997, and the days, months, and years that followed. Secondly, believing that God doesn’t waste a hurt, we wanted to share Isabelle’s story that with faith, family, and friends, God helped her create a beautiful life without her beloved here on earth.

Here are Isabelle’s words:

On July 21, 1997, Michael, who had just turned eight, was in his room playing. Isabelle was sitting in the front room on the couch. Bob was heading downstairs to get the clothes out of the dryer. She said to him that she had put the laundry in the wash machine and that she would get it. He said, “No I’ll go after I am done on the phone…”

After she had put the clothes in the wash machine, Isabelle was being harassed by Ruben, her father-in-law, who was trying to start an argument. She went upstairs and told Bob, “I can’t go through with this anymore. Also, you need to get the guns out of the house.” Bob said that he would take care of it. He then called Disney to make reservations with Disney World for its 25th Birthday of Mickey Mouse.

When he hung up the phone, he proceeded to go downstairs to get the laundry.

She heard the words of Bob, “No, don’t even think about it!” to his father, Ruben, who was at that time, living downstairs in the in-law’s apartment which had a full kitchen, family room with fireplace, master bedroom, and laundry room and patio to the outside.

Then, she heard a shot. This froze her on the couch. Michael terrified came running out of his bedroom. Isabelle snapped into gear, grabbed Michael, pushed him out the front door, and told him to run to his cousin, Adriane’s house, which was a few houses down the street and told him to tell Adriane to call 911 that somebody had been shot. Looking back, this command was a huge responsibility for a eight year old, but Isabelle did the best she could in the moment,

Next, Isabelle turned around, went downstairs, and found Bob on the floor almost in the family room. She began yelling “Bob!” There was no response. While next to Bob, Isabelle began to look for the gun which could not be seen. Ruben was sitting in his recliner. Once he shot Bob, he then shot himself. Isabelle never left Bob’s side so she never actually saw the gun.

Bob was cradled in Isabelle’s arms. At some point, the police came. The authorities tried to pull Isabelle away from Bob. They brought her across the street to Jean and Don’s house. Michael stayed with Adriane and Al. Family members contacted her parents, George and Mary, who were living in Hazel Crest on 175th. Immediately, her parents drove over to Don and Jeans home. Isabelle wanted to go with the ambulance that was taking Bob, but she was not allowed. Eric Metke, who lived two houses down, was on the Manteno Police Department, and he stayed with Isabelle until it was okay to take Isabelle to the hospital. The dispatcher called Eric to tell Isabelle that one of the men was still breathing, but she didn’t know which one was still alive. Traveling in Eric’s squad car, Isabelle went to St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee not knowing if Bob was still alive or not. It was Ruben who was still breathing. Bob died instantly because the bullet went right through his heart. By the time Isabelle arrived at the hospital, Ruben had also died. At some point, she was able to see Bob. She did not go into see Ruben. Someone called John, Bob’s brother and Ruben’s other son. Eric never left her side the entire time she was at the hospital. Looking back, Isabelle had enough time to spend with Bob’s body.

Right before this tragedy, Bob and Isabelle had just returned from their very best vacation to Lake Geneva with Michael, John, Bob’s brother, and his wife, Dena, and their two children. It was the best time of being together. While on this trip to Lake Geneva, Isabelle had this odd dream. She told Bob about the dream who replied, “Isabelle, you have the oddest dreams.” The dream was a beautiful day with beautiful flowers and a little dark-haired girl on the side of a white picket fence.

While dreaming, Isabelle thought, “It is my daughter, Dorothy Marie.”

In this dream, Dorothy Marie looked at Isabelle and said “Please do not worry. Everything will okay.”

Isabelle asked Dorothy Marie in the dream, “What do you mean?

She looked at Isabelle with her eyes and said, “Everything will be okay, and you will be alright.”

Later that day while on Lake Geneva, they rented the pontoon. It turned dark, sirens starting to blare, lightning, and hail were pelting them. Bob was calm even though he did not know how to get back to dock. They were trying to shelter the kids. Finally, Bob drove the boat back to the dock. People were yelling, “Keep coming! Get to shelter! Leave the pontoon!” It was one of the nastiest storms. Regardless, the words of Dorothy Marie from the dream were so soothing both for the storm in Lake Geneva and a few days later, for the tragic loss of Bob. Isabelle felt God sent Dorothy Marie in a dream to tell her that. Bob needed the comforting words while trying to navigate his family back to safety. Isabelle needed the words of comfort for the tragedy that would occur later a couple of days later.

While they were on vacation, Ruben used the time alone to stew about the move.  Because he was always bickering and arguing, Bob and Isabelle started looking for a senior complex for him. Once they all moved to Manteno, Ruben was not happy.

Ruben said to Isabelle when they arrived back from the vacation, “I will make your life miserable.”

She asked, “What are you talking about?”

He replied, “Don’t worry. I will make your life miserable.”

They moved in the new home on December 13th, 1996, and Ruben moved in with them. He had moved from Park Forest to Manteno. Bob and Isabelle moved from Dalton. When Ruben moved to Manteno, he began drinking heavily again. At the time of the murder/suicide, he was two times over the limit.

This tragedy made Isabelle a better person, and it brought her closer to God. He wrapped her up in his arms, and He gave Isabelle everything she needed to live a happy life with Michael. Her nights consisted of crying, and her days consisted of laughter with Michael. God gave Isabelle strength to carry on with her life. Without God’s guidance, she would not have been able survive. He brought a support system of family and friends whom she truly needed at the time. She had only been there seven months and had not met many people. God used this tragedy to bring in faithful friends to help bear some of the burden, and she carried on like God wanted her to. She raised Michael the best she could with the help of her parents who moved to Manteno a year later. Then, they moved to the in-law area later which was so comforting to her and Michael. Because of this move, Michael essentially three parents taking care of him.

There were several friends who helped immediately after Bob’s death. Father Mark from St. Joseph’s Church in Manteno said these comforting words to Isabelle, “People have to go through the initial shock.” His words were like God was speaking to her. For the first three days, she and Michael stayed with Adrian and Al. It was so difficult seeing the news media poking its nose to see if anyone was home. The news people wanted to get the scoop, and Isabelle did not want to talk to anyone, most of all the media. Rick and Becky Selk introduced themselves and asked if they could pray with her. Afterwards, they would stop by, hold hands, and pray with Isabelle. This too was comforting. Acts of kindness are long remembered. Wonderful friendships were made and kept. Isabelle is glad she was surrounded by people who made her life whole. God filled in some of gaps that Bob left.

Right after Bob died, Isabelle’s parents left for Florida to be with their son, Gus, and Kathy, his wife, and their daughter, Kristen, nine years at the time, who was diagnosed with a severe tumor on her pituitary gland and was undergoing chemo. Kristen currently works the hospital, is thirty-three years old, and blind, but she refuses to give up. In late 1998, Mary was diagnosed with liver cancer. She died in June of 1999. As Isabelle reflected on those losses, she stated that one of her family’s traits is generational fortitude. Neither she nor her father gave up. George became Grandpa George to all the children in the subdivision. He was such a blessing to the children, and he was blessed to be a part of the neighborhood kids’ lives after Mary died.

May we like Isabelle and George, make the most of the time God has given us by investing it in faith, family, and friends.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:15

3 thoughts on “Moving On After a Tragedy – A True Story of Faith, Family, and Friends

  1. It blows me away whenever I see this or think about those days. Your strength Isabelle is and was amazing!

  2. I always did think you were an amazingly confident, strong, insightful woman with a story! I just never imagined this was it! I’ve always had respect and admiration for you in the way you treated my son and me! Reading this, brought that to a much higher level! I don’t know if my faith could have been as strong as yours!

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