When a penniless Good Samaritan thwarted two San Diego brothers during their ghoulish game of using homeless humans as paintball targets, they allegedly went hunting for payback.
They got it in spades.
Austin Mostrong, 20, along with his cheerleading girlfriend Hailey Suder, 18, and younger brother Preston, 19, gathered at around 5:15 p.m. on April 24 and allegedly tracked down 50-year-old grandfather George Lowery to the Santee, California, encampment where he and his wife, Penny, had sheltered for years, according to friends and authorities.
Lowery had already beaten pancreatic cancer but on this night he couldn’t fend off the fiends, who prosecutors say used “fists and feet” to brutally beat and hog-tie him, before forsaking him to rot in the woods.
His dear wife Penny eventually found her bound and injured husband under a piece of wood.
“I seen a piece of plywood that goes to where we stay,” Penny Lowery told NBC 7. “I heard gurgling. When I picked it up he was gurgling for his life.”
According to his widow, the Mostrong brothers were miffed because four days earlier, Austin had been caught accosting two men whom Lowery was trying to protect from being shot with a paintball gun.
“They were shooting him with a paintball gun. My husband took the paintball gun from him,” Penny Lowery told NBC 7 back in April, one day after pulling the plug on her husband’s life support.
“I know he was doing what George always does: sticking up for the underdog,” a close family friend, Ashley Ballum, told The Daily Beast.
“Like he was telling them, ‘What did we do to you? There’s no reason to fight over anything!’
“He only wanted peace.”
Why Austin Mostrong was walking free to begin with is hard to comprehend. The elder Mostrong brother had been busted on April 20 for another assault charge, although details of that arrest remain murky.
A San Diego District Attorney spokeswoman refused to provide The Daily Beast with the time or location of the earlier assault incident that involved two male victims.
One thing is certain: Mostrong copped a guilty plea to three misdemeanors and skated out of court, only on the hook to serve three years’ probation and to pay a fine and complete 10 hours of community service.
At some point, deputies say they were able to place the brothers and cheerleader Hailey Suder at the rural crime scene along the San Diego River where Lowery was beaten to a pulp and where detectives say he suffered from “severe trauma to his upper body.”
Penny Lowery was able to get help to shuttle her husband, who was barely breathing, to a local hospital.
But Lowery’s daughter, his “baby girl” Katey Torres, arrived too late.
She wrote on Facebook that she learned about the attack on her dad after speaking to her older brother around 6 p.m. on April 24. “‘George was beat up. you need to go get penny and take her to go see him at the hospital’... I drove up to go get penny and the whole road was blocked off and taped off with crime scene tape cop cars and cops and detectives everywhere you look and I yelled down the street to the cops and started to cry ‘is this all for my dad???’” the daughter posted on her page.
A deputy at the crime scene delivered the gutting news that her dad was unlikely to pull through, Torres goes on to say in the Facebook post.
“I spent the roughest and most fucking worst 5 days of my goddamn fucking life in that hospital dad right by your side holding your hand talking into your ear hoping you could hear me hoping you’d wake up...you were unconscious since mom found you down in the river,” she wrote on Facebook.
She went on to call out her dad’s alleged attackers: the heartless brothers.
“You were taken too soon. Brutally murdered by some fucking punk kids half your age dad. My dad would be 51 years old July 25th and these kids Austin Freeman and Preston Freeman took your life away from you…” she wrote, referring to the brothers by a different surname.
Once she made it to the hospital, Torres says she was too late to say goodbye.
“He was unconscious the whole five days fighting,” she said. “We couldn’t even talk to him.”
Soon after the attack, Suder was nabbed and slapped with a murder charge, according to an initial press release from the San Diego Sheriff's Department.
On her Facebook page, Torres wrote: “Finally they got the ones that my mom saw at the crime scene. We’ll get every one of them that was behind this tragedy that robbed my father of his life. May they rot in prison, if they even last that long.”
Suder appeared in court on Thursday, red-faced and weeping, despite the fact that her charges were downgraded from murder to accessory after the fact. If she’s found guilty she no longer will serve 25 years of prison time but likely just under 4 years. She’s due back in court June 29.
Meanwhile, Preston Mostrong and his brother Austin have both pleaded not guilty to the murder of Lowery and face life in prison if convicted. Their preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 26.
Attempts by The Daily Beast to reach attorneys for all three accused were unsuccessful.
“This was not a random act,” San Diego Lt. Kenneth Nelson told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “I can’t think of another reason other than viciousness. Why else make a special trip down to the riverbed.”
Lt. Nelson described the scene as “horrific” and said that the trio seemed to be playing a bloodsport by “attacking some of the most vulnerable in our society.”
After the Mostrong brothers were arraigned in May, Deputy District Attorney George Modlin told reporters outside the hearing that the bloodletting was “brutal, heinous, just cold-hearted” and that once their case is presented, there will be no doubts as to their alleged guilt. “I’d say the murder charges and the torture charges are very much warranted in this case,” he added.
Meanwhile, George Lowery’s legacy lives on.
Already, the family’s efforts to raise money for expenses incurred as a result of his death have well-exceeded their goal.
And even though it’s been months since the family lost their beloved patriarch, his gentle and altruistic spirit won’t die. His family members can still hear his signature laugh; friends grieve not being able to see him smile.
Still his daughter remains distraught.
“From the second I got to the hospital the Dr told me there was no hope for you dad. I never left that hospital I stayed right by your side you know I was you know I'd never leave you dad,” Torres wrote after Lowery’s untimely death.
Torres still hopes a miracle could bring him back or erase what happened. “I keep thinking I'm going to see you walk through my door or I'll hear my phone ring and it’ll be you asking what I'm up to,” she posted. “I always hear your laugh... I look at every guy riding a bike hoping it’s you hoping I can run up to you and hug you again and tell you how much I love you..hear you tell me “I love you”... I love you so much dad and idk how I’m going to grow without you by my side.”
The praise of Lowery’s spirit extended beyond family, too.
For Ashley Ballum, who took Torres into her home and was her maid of honor for her wedding, Lowery was poor on paper but richer than most others when it came to soul.
“He was just always smiling, always happy,” she told us. “Always giving hugs and wanting to make sure everybody was okay.”
Whatever he had to his name he wanted to share with others, acquaintances said. Material things mattered little to Lowery. He was focused on the happiness of his wife Penny and his children. “It was humbling to see that they were still happy, loving people that even with the little amount they had they still tried to give back to us,” Ballum said.
Lowery routinely wanted to supply Ballum’s kids with trinket gifts like a magnetic board to create messages on the fridge or a doll’s brush and comb that she says her kids “will always cherish.”
And while he couldn’t spoil his daughter with material gifts, “whenever he came across some extra money,” Ballum says he made sure to buy something special from a thrift store “that [Katey] really liked.”
As parents they never complained.
“Every time I saw you you had the biggest smile on your face nothing could bring you down you were the toughest strongest man I know,” Torres stressed in her post. “You loved with every inch of your body and you never cared what people thought.. You’d help Any stranger with any task no matter the difficulty you’d stop everything your whole day to help this one person.”
Her friend Ballum acknowledged that life as a homeless person at the encampment where George and Penny lived was fraught with peril.
“There were times when he would say ‘People are messing with me’ or ‘People are stealing stuff,’” she remembered.
After Lowery’s brutal death, Ballum hopes each of his alleged attackers suffers for their horrific actions.
“I think everybody involved deserves the max sentence,” Ballum said. “Whether you sat there and watched it and didn’t do anything or if you partook in it—this could have been prevented.”