A competitive bodybuilder married to a one-time Miss America contestant was gunned down in front of the couple’s toddler while proselytizing, according to authorities and a close friend of the victim.
Thomas Hand Jr., the 37-year-old husband of former Miss Mississippi Christine Kozlowski Hand, 33, was “shot to death…in the presence of the victim’s two year old child,” states a criminal affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast. The shooting occurred Saturday afternoon on a street in Montgomery, Alabama, and Hand was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:37 p.m. by a doctor from Jackson Hospital, it states.
Jerimiah Walker, 17, was arrested and charged with capital murder in the presence of a child under the age of 14, according to the filing, which says the incident occurred just steps from Walker’s home. Walker is being held without bond at the Montgomery County jail. Police have not publicly revealed a possible motive for the crime.
“He was independently evangelizing door-to-door and he had recently moved to Montgomery…to start his new life with his wife and kids,” Hand’s longtime friend Luke Lemus told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Hand, who was originally from Louisiana and ran a company that sold nutritional supplements, discovered religion a few years back. He and his wife often spent Saturdays spreading the gospel throughout low income areas, according to friends. Kozlowski Hand is pregnant with the couple’s second child, who is due in August.
Lemus, 48, who trained with Hand, said he was too broken up to go into too much detail about Hand’s death.
“I’m kind of heartbroken right now,” said Lemus. “It’s hard…it’s hard for the family.”
Capt. Saba Coleman, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Police Department, told The Daily Beast that “there’s no additional information available for release regarding this ongoing investigation.”
Hand and Kozlowski met at the gym, according to the Daily Mail, which said the pair had just celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary. Kozlowski Hand described the shooting to the Mail as “a complete random act of violence.”
In 2014, Kozlowski became internet-famous when her then-boyfriend proposed at a One Direction concert. The couple, who met on Tinder, divorced within a year.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, in which she confirmed her husband’s death, Kozlowski Hand added a note to “all of his loyal and cherished customers at Hand Nutrition,” assuring them that “the company will continue to serve you guys and we ask that you stick with us as this will be our only means of support for our son and baby to be. We need your support now more than ever. We love you guys, the company will relocate to my hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. The weekend orders will ship on Monday as usual.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl D. Bailey and Deputy District Attorney Michael Scott Green, who are prosecuting the case, did not respond to a request for comment. Walker does not have a lawyer listed in court records.
A neighbor who lives a few doors down from the scene said she was at work when the shooting occurred, and returned to find the neighborhood flooded with cops.
“When I was getting home, I saw all the police out there and I was wondering what was going on,” Briaunca Pettway, 29, told The Daily Beast, adding that she has never crossed paths with Walker.
In an interview with local NBC affiliate WSFA, Bailey suggested he was losing patience with Montgomery’s soaring crime rate, saying, “We’ve got to start sending messages that this behavior is not tolerated.”
A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the Hands’ children has so far raised nearly $30,000.