The last time Kirsten Bridegan heard from her husband Jared, the 33-year-old Microsoft executive was doing what she said he loved most: being a dad.
After dropping off his twins from a previous marriage at his ex-wife’s house near Jacksonville Beach, Florida, Jared called Kirsten from the car while driving home with their own 2-year-old daughter, Bexley, in the backseat. During the brief call in February, Bridegan sounded “happy,” recounting the “good night” he had with three of his four children for their bi-weekly “date night,” Kirsten said.
“I was on the phone with one of my brothers and Jared called in while we were talking,” Kirsten Bridegan told The Daily Beast. “So I added him, and the three of us were chatting for a minute. And then my brother dropped off so I could just be talking to Jared—and Bexley, who told me, ‘Mom, I got an ice cream.’”
The mother of two, who stayed at home that night with their other 7-month-old daughter, said her husband ended the short conversation with a promise: “I’m almost home, see you soon.”
“Now I know that within a few minutes, he was killed,” Kirsten said. “The next time somebody answered Jared’s phone, it was a police officer… who told me to come to the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.”
Authorities say that as Bridegan was on his way back home to St. Augustine on Feb. 16, he came upon a tire in the middle of the road in a quiet residential neighborhood. As he apparently tried to move the obstacle, the senior design manager was shot multiple times in what cops called a “targeted” killing that wrecked a promising young family.
Bridegan’s toddler was still strapped into her car seat in his Volkswagen Atlas when a passerby came upon the grisly scene about three minutes later. Police say the car’s emergency lights were flashing when officers arrived—and the tire remained in the middle of the road near where Bridegan was lying next to his open driver’s door.
“Bexley has frequently asked about what happened and has even repeatedly said: ‘Boom boom boom, Daddy on the ground.’”
Thanks in part to Bridegan being the sort of man one friend described to The Daily Beast as “the last person to have any enemies,” authorities have yet to make any arrests, name any suspects, or identify a motive in the case.
A spokesperson for the Jacksonville Beach Police Department declined to comment on details of the “still-active” investigation now stretching into its sixth month. But they did note that investigators were looking for any information they could find about a dark-colored 2004 to 2008 Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Meanwhile, the mysterious case has pulled back a curtain on Bridegan, a Mormon whose contentious previous marriage—and bitter divorce—with the mother of his two 9-year-old children has served as fodder for tabloid gossip.
The court file in St. Johns County between Bridegan and his ex-wife, Shanna Gardner-Fernandez—which eventually moved from a divorce to a custody case—has about 300 entries and motions. The filings range from arguments over where to send their twins to elementary school to accusations of mental and financial manipulation.
“All you want to do is move forward with life and focus on being a family,” Kirsten Bridegan said, adding that the constant court battles caused “stress, it causes, you know… stress about going to court.”
“So that was difficult. It was hard to watch Jared deal with that.”
Amid the steady diet of media scrutiny, Gardner-Fernandez and her husband Mario Fernandez have hired a criminal defense attorney. Still, they have never been identified as persons of interest or suspects in the case. A spokesperson for the couple said they were no longer speaking out of respect for Kirsten Bridegan, who they claim specifically asked them not to speak to the media. Gardner-Fernandez previously told local outlet Action News Jax, “I wish it weren’t like this.” She said that when she found out about Bridegan’s death, she was shocked and “fell to the floor because I was devastated.”
Rather than look to his earlier years, Bridegan’s widow is left trying to guide her daughter through the aftermath of witnessing her father’s gruesome murder up close.
Since the killing, Kirsten said, Bexley has frequently asked about what happened and has even repeatedly said: ‘Boom boom boom, Daddy on the ground.”
Every memory Mallary Beaudin has of Bridegan from high school is filled with “laughter and light.”
Beaudin, 33, met Bridegan through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the pair remained close even though they lived about 45 minutes away from each other in north Florida, near St. Augustine. Describing Bridegan as her “first love,” Beaudin told The Daily Beast he was a big part of her high-school years.
“He wasn’t like other guys that I knew in high school. He was very respectful. He was a true gentleman,” she added.
“Whoever decided to kill Jared knew what kind of person he was. They knew he was the kind of person who would stop to move a tire out of the street to ensure someone else wouldn’t get hurt.”
— Kirsten Bridegan
After Bridegan graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in 2007, he went to college in Utah—at one point he was Beaudin’s neighbor when they lived in the same apartment complex. She added that Bridegan was even there the first time she met her own now-husband.
Over the years, Beaudin said, she and Bridegan would stay in touch over social media, and she recalled his noting when he first met Gardner-Fernandez during a visit to Florida around when she was getting married out in Utah. Bridegan and Gardner-Fernandez, who grew up in an affluent Mormon community in Utah and is the heiress to a successful paper-craft empire, married in April 2010 at a Salt Lake City Temple.
According to the Florida Times-Union, the pair initially lived in Utah, before moving to Connecticut. Once Gardner-Fernandez gave birth to their twins—Liam and Abigail—the pair decided to move to Florida after their son was diagnosed with a heart condition that required him to live at sea level.
But their marriage crumbled, prompting Gardner-Fernandez to file for divorce in St. Johns County in February 2015 after six years together. Citing anonymous sources, Fox News Digital reported the relationship ended after Bridegan found emails implying Gardner-Fernandez was having an affair with her Crossfit trainer. (Gardner-Fernandez denied having an affair to the Florida Times-Union and said in a July 2015 court document that she and Bridegan “don’t love each other anymore.”)
“In the past 3 months, Shanna has become really distant, and got emotionally attached to her personal trainer at the gym, and is now divorcing me,” Bridegan wrote to Beaudin in a 2015 Facebook message reviewed by The Daily Beast. “But she has her agency so I just need to move on and find someone to be my best friend again ya know.”
Around the same time, Fox reported, Gardner-Fernandez asked a tattoo parlor employee if he knew anyone that could “shut… up” Bridegan. Gardner-Fernandez admitted to the Florida Times-Union that she made the statement at the tattoo parlor in 2015 while discussing her divorce.
“Our relationship was pretty complicated and remained pretty complicated,” she told the outlet, describing her split with Bridegan as “bitter.”
Court documents and social-media messages reviewed by The Daily Beast showcase the lengthy legal battle Gardner-Fernandez and Bridegan waged during their divorce proceedings. In one 2015 document filed during their near-constant litigation, Gardner-Fernandez accused her ex-husband of “disturbing and abusive behavior,” including “regularly interrogating” and recording the twins after “actively coaching” them on what to say.
Bridegan denied the allegations, and claimed in his own 2015 motion that Gardner-Fernandez installed “surveillance devices in the children’s bedroom” and his car, and treated him in a “disparaging manner in front of the children.” Gardner-Fernandez likewise denied the allegations in court filings.
Beaudin said the last time she connected at length with Bridegan in March 2015, the father-of-two opined about his struggle to move on.
In one message, Bridegan suggested to “NEVER get divorced” because “it’s literally the hardest thing I’ll ever do, its emotionally and physically the worst thing in the world to hear your eternal companion just be like, ‘Yeah, I am out… see ya later.’”
Friends and family say that despite the struggle over his first marriage, Bridegan’s main priority was being the best parent to his children—even if that meant moving back across the country to support them.
At the end of 2015, Nate Sanders hired Bridegan as a user experience designer for the software company Canopy in Lehi, Utah. Sanders told The Daily Beast that the recently divorced Bridegan was an “incredibly positive and incredibly kind” co-worker driven by love for his kids.
“His focus was on his children. He was worried about Liam, he was worried about Abby,” Sanders told The Daily Beast. “And everything he ever talked about revolved around those two.”
Court documents suggest that Bridegan was quietly battling with his ex-wife to maintain equal custody of the kids despite living in another state. Eventually, Sanders said, Bridegan was forced to quit the tech start-up because he was not “going to risk losing custody of his kids in any way.”
Back in Florida, Sanders said, Bridegan expressed a desire to start dating again and took the plunge to sign up for dating apps. One of those dating-app matches in early 2017 was with Kirsten, who at the time lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, and worked at Microsoft.
“He had been doing a lot of dating on Bumble and Tinder and things like that and just felt like he hadn’t found somebody that he could really connect with,” Sanders said.
After he began talking to Kirsten, the friend continued, Bridegan at “one point had told me, ‘Yeah, I think she’s really special. I think it could go somewhere.’”
Kirsten Bridegan told The Daily Beast that she felt an instant draw to her future husband, noting that the two spent a lot of time talking on the phone before he made the six-hour drive to her in North Carolina for their first date. A few months later, Kirsten requested that her Microsoft job be fully remote, moved to Florida, and married Bridegan in October 2017.
“We waited just over a year before having kids,” Kirsten explained, noting that during that time, she and her husband had a nice balance of “newlywed time and family time” with Bridegan’s two previous children.
Describing Bridegan, who started working at Microsoft himself last year in user design experience, as a “creative dad,” Kirsten said she loved watching “all the random stuff” he would come up with for the twins—and eventually, their daughter Bexley, who was born in August 2019. The pair would eventually welcome their second daughter, London, in August 2021.
“When it would be raining, we would make little toothpick boats and float them down, you know, the street in the gutter,” she said.
As part of the custody agreement with Jared’s ex-wife, the Bridegans would get the twins every other week. During the off weeks, Kirsten said, they would see the twins on Wednesdays for “date night.”
“It usually consisted of a dinner and a quick activity like dinner or dessert, and then the parent would drop the kids back off at the other parent’s house,” Kirsten explained.
Bridegan was returning home from the bi-weekly “date night” on Feb. 16 when he was fatally shot.
On those nights, the father-of-four was usually home around 8:15 p.m after dropping off his children at their mother’s house about half an hour away. Kirsten said that she started feeling something was off at around 8:30 p.m., noting that she had spoken to him on the phone and he had indicated he was close to home.
“I gave it a few more minutes and then I started looking down the road… just to see if there were headlights coming down the road,” she said. Worried, she began calling and texting her husband but was met with silence. So she got in her car and began looking for her husband while still dialing his cellphone.
Suddenly, someone picked up. It was not her husband.
“I kept calling and calling and that’s when a police officer answered the phone,” she said. “The only thing they did answer was that Bexley was okay.”
Rushing to the closest police station, Kirsten said, she had to wait a few minutes before she was greeted at the door by a female officer who took her to a break room. Her daughter was “sitting there wrapped in a blanket and had a coloring book on the table.”
“I ran over and I picked her up and the officer just wouldn’t tell me anything for what seems like forever,” Kirsten said.
It would take several more minutes, and multiple failed attempts to get answers about what happened to Bridegan, before an officer escorted Kirsten to another room in the back. There, she said, she was told that her husband had been killed.
“Honestly, my hearing seemed to go,” Kirsten recalled. “I felt like I was going to throw up, I remember looking around the room for a trash can like I might throw up and I didn’t see one. I think I put my head in my hands like: This can’t be real.”
Kirsten added that even though she had felt something was terribly wrong by that point, hearing the news made her want to say, “It’s not him, it’s somebody else, you made a mistake.”
“And then the rest of the night honestly is kind of a blur,” she added. “I know we talked more. They asked me some more questions, but it just all started to blur together.”
Over the next several days, she said, she communicated with the police, friends, and family—including Bridegan’s ex-wife—about the murder. But she expressed umbrage that, just 12 days after the incident, as Fox News digital first reported, Gardner-Fernandez emailed Kirsten asking her to return some library books. In another email, she asked for Bridegan’s death certificate.
Both Kirsten and Gardner-Fernandez have said that Bridegan’s ex-wife was not invited to his funeral.
But while Kirsten said a lot of the media attention has been about her husband’s past relationship and custody battle, she is only focused on finding out who killed Bridegan. One major piece of the puzzle, she said, is the Ford truck that was caught on security cameras around the time of the murder. While the truck is a “vehicle of interest,” police have not yet elaborated as to why this car is important to the case.
For Kirsten, it seems clear the only way to find out what happened to her husband is to enlist the public’s help. She hopes it will just take one person coming forward to help solve what she believes was a premeditated crime that has given her daughter PTSD.
“He was happy. He was thriving at work. He felt like he was being challenged. He loved his team. We had a great circle of friends,” she said. “Whoever decided to kill Jared knew what kind of person he was. They knew he was the kind of person who would stop to move a tire out of the street to ensure someone else wouldn’t get hurt.”
“Someone knows who shot him at close range while our daughter was in the car, and we are just asking for answers to find closure.”