WELLINGTON, New Zealand (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former New York attorney who had risen to become the attorney general of a small Pacific island has been killed by a gunman outside her own home.
Friends said Tuesday that lawyer Rachelle Bergeron planned to return to the U.S. after a challenging stint prosecuting criminals on the Pacific nation of Micronesia, but she was shot and killed as she returned home from a run with her dog.
Bergeron’s husband was inside the couple’s house Monday night baking brownies with a local child the couple was helping care for when somebody fired three shots at Bergeron as she pulled up and opened the back of her Subaru hatchback, killing both her and her dog, said one friend, Amos Collins.
The killing has shocked the tiny island of Yap, home to 11,000 people, where Bergeron served as acting attorney general of Yap State. Authorities say they’re investigating the crime but haven’t yet arrested any suspects.
Bergeron was from Wisconsin and first moved to Yap in 2015 to take a job as assistant attorney general. She had previously worked in Washington D.C., New York, and India.
In a video statement posted on social media, Yap Gov. Henry Falan offered his condolences to Bergeron’s husband and family.
“Her loss will be greatly felt by all who knew her,” Falan said. “Yap’s spirit is broken by this senseless crime. Today marks a tragic day in our history.”
The Federated States of Micronesia, located about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Indonesia, has close ties with the U.S. under a compact of free association and the U.S. dollar is its primary currency.
Collins said Bergeron’s husband Simon Hammerling called him a few minutes after the shooting at 7:15 p.m. and he arrived about the same time as the police.
Bergeron had been shot in her upper leg and her upper chest and was unconscious, Collins said. He and a nurse used a blanket to move Bergeron onto his flatbed truck and they drove to the local hospital.
Collins said that he doesn’t know who shot Bergeron but that some of those she had prosecuted might hold grudges. He said he considers Yap a safe place and doesn’t lock his car or worry when walking about at night.
The Small Arms Survey, a Swiss nonprofit that analyzes gun ownership statistics, estimates there are 700 guns total owned by the civilian population of Micronesia, which numbers 104,000 people.
According to reports, Bergeron was still a member of the New York State Bar and had been working in Manhattan until she left for the island of Yap. The island is about 4,500 miles west of Hawaii.
According to the New York Post, Bergeron had set up a youth outreach program focused on finding sex trafficking clients for Sanctuary for Families. She also reportedly offered legal advice to sex trafficking victims.
Another friend, Julie Hartup, who lives in nearby Guam, said the couple was about to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary and hoped to start a family soon.
She said she had joined the couple and their families in July for a celebration of their marriage, when they re-took their vows. She said Bergeron’s father gave a speech about how his daughter had always wanted to be a voice for the voiceless, and to give strength to those who didn’t have it.
A GoFundMe page set up for the slain attorney general has already raised over $22,000 for her funeral costs.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)