BLANCHARD — You might say she had true grit.
Sarah McKinley, confronted by a knife-wielding intruder at her isolated home in Grady County, shot to kill on New Year's Eve.
“She's dead-on accurate. She is that. Thank God,” said Debbie Murray, the mother of the 18-year-old McKinley, during a Wednesday visit to the rural mobile home her widowed daughter rents.
The home invasion left the young mother terrified, and Murray is dropping by more often these days.
“Everybody who comes in pretty much gets a gun pulled at 'em, even a police officer,” McKinley said.
Her story has struck a chord. Thousands of online commenters have weighed in on news sites, heralding the Second Amendment, lambasting the police response time of more than 20 minutes and holding McKinley up as a hero. The media have taken to calling her a “gun totin' mama,” splashing her story under headlines all over the world.
As headline-grabbing as the circumstances are, to McKinley there's nothing tongue-in-cheek about it. She's somber about the whole thing, sorry she had to kill Justin Shane Martin, 24.
The Blanchard ranch hand died slumped over a couch McKinley had used to barricade the door, gripping a knife in his gloved hand.
McKinley said he had been trying for 20 minutes to break into the house before she shot him. She said she suspects he had been stalking her for weeks while her husband lay dying of cancer.
She was married to Kenneth McKinley, 40 years her senior, for less than a month before he died on Christmas Day.
“I'm very sorry for what I did, but I felt like what I did was the best decision for my son and I. Obviously when someone breaks into your house with a deadly weapon, they're not here for anything good,” McKinley said.
Within her rights
A Grady County prosecutor said McKinley was within her rights when she shot Martin.
Court documents indicate Martin and an alleged accomplice had consumed prescription painkillers that day and might have been after more drugs Martin suspected were in the home.
Dustin Louis Stewart, 29, of Blanchard, has been charged with first-degree murder.
He bailed out of jail Thursday, and a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May 23.
The events were highly unusual for the town of about 7,600 people patrolled by an 11-member police force, neighbors say.
William Bettis has lived down the road from McKinley's home for 22 years.
“This is very unusual for this street,” he said. “As long as I've been here we've never had a shooting.”
Thieves might occasionally skim something from someone's yard, but robberies in peoples' homes aren't typical, he said.
Dressed in jeans, a pink T-shirt, a black vest and wearing a peace sign necklace, McKinley answered the door Wednesday holding a shotgun and with a cellphone to her ear. She apologized for the weapon and laid it on the coffee table.
She said she was on the phone with “someone from Anderson Cooper.”
Her telephone had been ringing nonstop.
McKinley never finished high school, but she has shown a steely resolve in the past that she may have invoked during the confrontation on New Year's Eve, her mother said.
When her relationship with Kenneth McKinley, a friend of the family, caused a rift with her mother, Sarah McKinley was resolute.
“She kept telling me age didn't matter. She loved him and age doesn't matter. When I saw my grandson, it was no longer for me to judge. That was between him and the Lord,” Murray said.
Her daughter is “hyped up” from all the attention, caught up in the whirlwind of interviews, Murray said.
She said she plans to encourage her daughter to seek counseling.
“The police officers tell me even they can't do something like this and walk away from it.”