PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — On Tuesday, the parents of a West Mifflin toddler killed in a shooting 17 years ago will ask the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole not to let the man convicted in his death be released from jail.
Mary Beth Hacke, the mother of little Ryan Hacke, recalls those moments.
“And I was looking ’cause I was at a traffic light glancing over waiting for the light to change and I’d seen this individual pull out a gun both hands on the trigger and just started shooting and I’ve never witnessed anything like that in my life and it was just like everything went in slow motion,” she said.
It was the moment in January of 1997 that changed the lives of the Hacke family forever. They were in two cars in Homestead getting gas. Tom with his sons Ryan and Matthew, behind Mary Beth’s car.
“I kept looking out of the rear view mirror at my husband and babies in the car saying please don’t let anything happen to them,” she recalls. “I didn’t know if anything had. You know my heart was beating. My mind was racing. I was so scared.”
Then, her worst fear was realized. Her 14-month-old son Ryan was shot in the head. He died a couple of days later.
Vaughn Mathis, 22 years old at the time, was arrested. He testified at trial he fired trying to scare off two men coming at him with guns.
The case has been a powder keg of emotion from the beginning. Supporters of the Hacke family carrying signs like “Mathis – a baby killer” and “This was no accident … it was murder.”
At the inquest, the victim’s father kept his eye on the defendant. And both the mother of the victim and the mother of the defendant were in tears.
At trial, though, Mathis was convicted of involuntary manslaughter rather than murder.
But a separate conviction for his role in a rape and assault tacked on more time totaling 15 to 38 years.
Matthew Hacke, the 3-year-old who was sitting next to Ryan, the victim, is now a Fordham University student.
“The things that you miss in your daily lives and just watching your other children grow,” says Tom Hacke the victim’s father. “You know you’re always happy for your children. You always want to see them do well and succeed. But there’s always that sadness. You always feel it.”
“Ryan would be a senior in high school this year,” said the child’s mother. “We should be waiting to get acceptance letters from which colleges he would have applied to. And instead we’re faced with going in front of a parole board.”
The family is going to the parole board under a new law that gives victims an opportunity to address them when the board reviews an inmate’s potential release.
Mathis could be released as early as this summer.
The Hacke family has established a website: justice4ryanhacke.com which encourages petition signatures opposing Mathis’ release.
“Jan. 15 is when the website was put up and in little over a month, there’s close to 10,000 signatures,” says Mary Beth Hacke.
And they plan to personally tell their story to the State Board of Probation and Parole.
“Each day it’s there with you,” says Tom Hacke. “Some days more than others, it’s beneath the surface and I want to tell them. I want to tell them what I feel. There was no remorse. No remorse whatsoever. I mean we have information from detectives, people that interviewed him – no remorse.”
But what if Mathis, after this much time in jail, is a changed person? Has he yet paid his debt to society?
“I don’t agree with that,” says Tom Hacke. “I mean he has just committed so much crime. I mean there’s an extensive history of what he has done.”
So far, no comment from defense attorney Bill Difenderfer, who represented Mathis at trial, and who keeps in touch with the Mathis family.