Nearly 2 decades after the murder of a physician and his son a legacy of love survives
David and Kate Bagby know all about the unlikely power of love funneled through rage.
The Bagbys, who recently marked their 50th wedding anniversary, say it sustained them for nearly a decade as they struggled to come to terms first with the 2001 slaying of their 28-year-old son, Dr. Andrew Bagby, and later with the murder of Andrew’s son, 13 month-old Zachary.
Today, 17 years after Andrew’s death and a little more than 15 years after Zachary died as a victim of a murder-suicide, a legacy of love survives.
Nearly four dozen medical students — including a woman who met the Bagbys as a child — have benefited from a scholarship at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital that the Bagbys and their friends endowed in Andrew’s name.
And, after a relentless eight-year campaign that included the publication of a book and the release of a documentary film about Andrew and Zachary, Canadian law was amended to ensure no other child would suffer Zachary’s fate.
It all began with a horrific series of events that spanned two nations.
Andrew Bagby, a gregarious family-practice resident at Latrobe, was found shot to death on Nov. 5, 2001, in Keystone State Park. Authorities later determined his former lover Dr. Shirley Turner, then pregnant with Bagby’s child, killed him and fled to Canada, where she held dual citizenship.
Back at their California home, the Bagbys were devastated by the death of their only child.
“Kate and I could do nothing but cry, all day, every day,” David Bagby said.
“You’re not in any position to do anything at first. I just used to go out my front door and say I am Kate Bagby. I live in Sunnyvale, Calif. This did not happen to me,” Kate Bagby said.
Setting up the scholarship in Andrew’s name was their way of keeping his memory alive and repaying the many kindnesses people in Western Pennsylvania extended to them.
Then they learned Turner, who had been apprehended in Newfoundland, was carrying their grandchild. She was fighting extradition to the United States when she gave birth.
The Bagbys quickly traveled to Newfoundland to care for the sunny toddler who had Andrew’s smile.
Their joy was short-lived.
Had Turner been arrested in Pennsylvania, where Andrew’s murder occurred, she could have been held without bail, pending trial. But Canadian law at the time held that no one could be detained without bail.
Eventually Turner was released pending extradition. She regained custody of Zachary, despite attempting suicide years earlier and a murder charge in Westmoreland County.
The Bagbys stayed and bowed to Turner’s wishes to maintain contact with Zachary.
“We couldn’t do any more to help Andrew. That was done before we could do anything. We wanted to do what we could to help Zachary,” David Bagby said.
In the interim, one of Andrew Bagby’s closest childhood friends, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne had begun making a documentary about the young doctor, titled “Dear Zachary,” an effort to tell the toddler about the father he never met.
On Aug. 13, 2003, Turner, still fighting extradition, took Zachary to Conception Bay. Authorities believe she threw the child into the icy North Atlantic and then walked into the ocean herself. Their bodies were found washed ashore nearby. Authorities ruled it a murder-suicide.
The Bagbys were enraged and set out to change Canada’s bail laws.
David Bagby’s book, “Dance with the Devil,” which recounted the murders, was published in 2007.
Kuenne, who had set aside his film after Zachary’s death, committed to finishing it and working with the Bagbys.
“I had to put this film out publicly and as a call for change and a companion to the book,” Kuenne explained in a trailer that was released with the film.
“Dateline NBC” picked up the story.
Kuenne and the Bagbys screened “Dear Zachary” at festivals across Canada. Eventually, it caught the attention of several members of parliament who agreed to help.
On Dec. 15, 2010, parliament amended the Canadian criminal code to allow individuals charged with a serious crime to be held without bail in the event they might pose a threat to someone 18 or younger.
All the while, medical students were lining up for the scholarship program back in Latrobe. It provides students considering family practice who have completed their first or second year of medical school a summer scholarship to Latrobe to experience the rigors of family practice training.
Last summer, life came full circle for Martha Innes. The medical student at Memorial University in Newfoundland, the school Andrew Bagby attended, was named a Bagby scholar at Latrobe.
David and Kate Bagby recalled meeting Martha after they had befriended her father, John, while in Newfoundland.
“He and his wife invited us to their place for dinner, and they had this sweet little girl, she was 9 or 10 at the time. She was a sweetheart. And to find out that she had grown up to be a scholarship recipient was just too cool,” David Bagby said.
Back in Newfoundland, Innes said she’s grateful for the opportunity the scholarship provides.
“I had such a lovely time in Latrobe! The staff at the hospital was welcoming and eager to teach,” she wrote in an email. “It was an unforgettable experience, and I’m so grateful to the Bagbys that they have set up this program in honor of their son.”
Dr. Carol Fox, medical director at Latrobe and a graduate of its family practice residency program, said scholarship recipients have gone on to participate in the family practice residency and two graduates are now practicing medicine there.
David Bagby said the scholarship was his wife’s idea. She wanted to do something that would make a difference in a life.
Many years later, they still long for the gregarious young man who wanted to make a difference in the world.
“He wasn’t a saint, but he certainly got into his patients in great depth. One of his patients contacted us after he was killed and said she had seen him the day before that he seemed to take hold of her problem and just dig into it,” David Bagby said.
“I think he’d be damned proud of us. We were very proud of him for getting through university and into medical school and finishing that. He was right where he wanted to be. …We wouldn’t have been able to do anything, but for love and how much we loved Andrew and Zachary,” he said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.