Mark Kirby was tired from his day at the car dealership. But still, he made sure he was in the stands on Friday Oct. 9 to watch his son play football.

Taking photos on the field after the game, Mark smiled through his exhaustion and stood proudly next to his son, Ethan Kirby. Mark’s wife, RaShelle Kirby, grinned broadly on Ethan’s other side.

It would be the last time the three would take a photo together. Ethan in the middle, Mark and RaShelle flanking him, arms thrown over their son's shoulders.

Six hours later, Mark would be shot dead in a driveway across the street from the family’s home.

On Monday, a neighbor is set to respond to charges in Mark's death. For the family, the court case is how they hope to get answers about what happened that night.

Mark, 52, and RaShelle, 40, had both made it to their son's football game that evening.

Ethan, 16, a junior at Billings West High School, had become a regular starter for his team, and that night the Golden Bears had won the game, 34-7.

When the game ended, Mark, RaShelle and Ethan's maternal grandparents joined him on the field, where the family took photos.

For Ethan, that night's win was later overshadowed. His most prominent memory would become talking to his father for the last time.

"He told me how proud he was of me," Ethan said. "He was the one that encouraged me to go out for football."

Ethan said goodbye to his family, and went to stay at a friend's house that evening. Mark rallied the remainder of the family to go to Perkins for dinner. He accompanied RaShelle to her car, something he made a practice of.

It ended up turning into a longer walk than Mark had expected though. RaShelle had forgotten where she’d parked.

The family made it to the restaurant and settled in at a table. Mark and RaShelle's father, Phil Richert, ordered food. RaShelle and Sherrie weren't hungry and didn't get anything to eat.

When the drinks came, Mark let the family chat, surreptitiously tearing the paper off the end of his straw. While Sherrie was distracted, he brought the straw to his lips, and in a puff of light air, blew the paper into Sherrie's face.

"He would do it to me all the time," Sherrie said later, recalling dinners with her son-in-law. "I should have seen it coming, but he always left enough time in between, I never expected it."

Filled with pride for their son, Mark and RaShelle returned to their house on the 3000 block of Grecian Way at about 11 p.m.

RaShelle said she and Mark separated after some tart words. She said she was tired, wanted to go to sleep, and thought, "We can talk about this when he comes up to bed." Or tomorrow. They were kindred spirits, RaShelle said later, and besides, the pair had years of conversations ahead of them.

So RaShelle went upstairs to bed.

Mark walked across the street to go tell his neighbor, Jose Cobos, known by people in the neighborhood as 'Joe', about his son's win. Mark wasn't close to Joe, but Joe would sit in his driveway, and Mark would walk over and share stories with him. Former military men from different branches, the gesture of friendship was typical of Mark, who loved to talk to anyone and everyone.

That night, Cobos' roommate said Mark wouldn't stop talking about Ethan. When the roommate went inside at about 11:30 p.m., Mark and Cobos were still sitting together, Cobos listening as Mark continued to brag about his son.

At about 1:45 a.m., RaShelle awoke to the deep chuckle of her husband. She shut her window to block out the noise and returned to bed.

A few minutes later, RaShelle heard the shot.

The loud bang got RaShelle up, and she returned to the window. She expected to see her husband and their neighbor, laughing and talking together. Instead, she saw Cobos' garage was open and dimly lit, but empty.

Rousing herself, RaShelle walked across the street to see where her husband and Cobos had gone, according to court documents.

As she walked up the driveway, RaShelle saw her husband, face up, lying on the ground. Dropping to her knees, RaShelle cried out and cradled his head with her arm. As she lifted him a little, blood spilled from the back of his neck. RaShelle held him, pleading with him to come back.

“I remember, I knew the last thing people lose is their hearing,” RaShelle said. “His eyes were open, but, I couldn’t tell, I didn’t know if he could hear me.”

She remembered cradling his face before, but in their home, him in his dark blue robe, her letting his head rest in her lap. She said it was in their home together that he would let his guard down, always treating her tenderly and sweetly.

She would melt into him when they laid together. She could never replace him, she said.

It used to blow her away, how deeply in love they were.

"I didn't know all that there was to love about me," RaShelle said. But, she said, she could always make Mark laugh. 

Mark's best friend, Ray Scozzari, worked with Mark at Denny Menholt Chevrolet, where Mark was a finance manager. Scozzari told RaShelle at Mark's funeral that she was the love of Mark's life.

2 images

The last trip RaShelle, Mark and Ethan had taken together, they'd decided to camp in West Rosebud. It was a warm day, and the sun shined down as their car rounded the soft curves of the road.

Mark and Ethan were carrying on a conversation, and RaShelle listened at first, but her mind drifted. She stared at Mark, who she said had taken on an almost ethereal look. To her, he epitomized the father figure, so in control, so determined and solid. But in his face, RaShelle said she saw something beautiful and pure. In the background, the song "If We're Honest" played softly.

Throughout their marriage, RaShelle said she would often wake up to Mark quietly tracing the outline of her face with his finger. He called her his princess and had a special love for her blue eyes. He said they were what he first noticed about her when they played volleyball against each other in a crowded gymnasium almost 23 years earlier.

RaShelle couldn't reconcile in her mind the two Marks. One alive, filled with warmth and love. The other, lifeless, lying motionless, his blood on her hands.

She was still cradling Mark's head when Cobos walked out of his house.

Court documents say RaShelle saw him and screamed at him. She asked him what had happened.

"He tried to kill me," Cobos told her, according to the documents.

"Oh, Joe," a neighbor told police he thought he heard RaShelle say.

Cobos told RaShelle that Mark had had a gun on him, though detectives would not find one belonging to Mark in the area, according to documents. This would be one of two different explanations court documents state Cobos gave that evening. The second was said to another neighbor, who walked over after hearing RaShelle's hysteria.

Court documents state the neighbor stared at Mark's body, and asked Cobos what was going on.

"It's Halloween. We're just having some fun," Cobos told him.

While he spoke to Cobos, the neighbor never saw Mark's chest move. The neighbor went back into his house and called 911.

Cobos is scheduled to be arraigned on deliberate homicide charges Monday in Yellowstone County District Court.

'He's dead'

Sarah Kirby, Mark's only daughter and a senior at the University of Montana, snuggled deeper under her covers on the morning of Oct. 10. She didn't need to be at her internship in Lolo for a few more hours and she thought, "I should just sleep."

"I would have never gotten the phone call," Sarah said.

The ranch Sarah interns at is miles out of cell service. If she'd left at her normal time, she would have been unreachable.

Instead, Sarah was dozing through the early hours of the morning when her phone buzzed.

"I don't know how to tell you this," RaShelle said. "Your dad's been shot."

"He's dead."

Sarah said OK. But then she asked where she could see him. She asked what hospital he was at. She asked when she could talk to him.

"No," RaShelle said. "No, he's dead."

Sarah only stayed on the phone for a moment before she became overwhelmed. She ended the call and sank down onto her bed.

"I didn't understand," Sarah said. "How did I just lose my father?"

Not much sense

Ethan was at his friend's house when he got the call. He was taken to City Hall by his grandparents. Ethan tried to talk to his mom when he got there, but she was hysterical. When he was finally able to piece together what had happened, it still made little sense to him.

Ethan had always thought of the neighborhood he'd grown up in as pretty benign, he said.

It was a place where he and his father had gone door-to-door selling packages of coffee to raise money for Ethan's football team. They'd knock on doors together on the very street where Mark was killed.

Ethan and RaShelle have stayed with RaShelle's parents since Mark's death.

Ethan said his father was a compassionate man who'd taught him all his life to be determined and driven. He said that on the first fishing trip he'd taken with his dad, Mark helped him reel in Ethan's first catch. But when it got close, Mark told Ethan to throw the fish back. It was too small, Mark said, Ethan would catch something bigger. He just had to be patient, Mark told him.

When Ethan described his dad, he used words like "determined" and "wise." He remembered a happy man, who never missed a birthday and who drove Ethan to be great.

When Ethan pictures his father, he pictures him laughing.

Mark died in the early hours of Oct. 10, four days before his 53rd birthday. He was buried with military honors in Yellowstone National Cemetery.

Before the casket was closed, his brother Michael Kirby, an Air Force veteran, pinned silver wings on his brother's jacket.

A service for Mark was held at Emmanuel Baptist Church about a week after his death. His three children, Brandon, Sarah and Ethan and his brother Michael, were all there. Friends and family told stories of a man who loved to fly, a veteran of the Air Force who had founded the Montana Veterans Airlift Command, a charity that provides medical air transportation to disabled veterans and their families.

His family wrote that Mark "was always available to support and advise his wife and children."

"He used to say that 'you make time for the people you love,'" Sarah said.

The night he died, Sarah called her dad for advice after a fight with a friend. Her dad had told her, "Love people harder for what they don't know, and make time for the people you love."

"I realized that night, Dad had made time for me in his life," Sarah said.

She was overwhelmed with a feeling of love for him.

"I sent him a text after we'd finished talking, just telling him I loved him, and I thanked him for his support."

"I don't know if he got it," Sarah said. "I sent it right around the time he'd walked across the street."

"I hope he saw it."

0
0
0
0
0

Justice reporter for The Billings Gazette.