Denine Reese just wanted to go her own way.
The 35-year-old Cheektowaga mother of three had exciting plans for 2006. She was studying for a master's degree, readying for a move to South Carolina and was expecting the arrival of her first grandchild this summer, according to her mother, Marsha Jones.
Late Tuesday, Reese's life was cut short at the muzzle of an old boyfriend's 9 mm handgun in the parking lot of an Amherst pizzeria, Amherst police said. Reese had recently ended a six-year relationship with Gregory Ellis of Buffalo.
"He was an unstable person the last year or two years," Jones said. "She realized he wasn't the person for her."
That was last summer. Ellis did not handle the break-up well, Jones said.
Jones said he would repeatedly call Reese and her family's house. Jones said the family took his calls for awhile, but he wouldn't give up.
"I had phone calls from him numerous times asking me does she still love him," Jones said. "I told him if it was meant to be it was in God's time, not his."
"He told me he couldn't live without her and if she was with another man, he couldn't deal with that." After Reese and her family stopped taking his calls, Jones said Ellis stalked her daughter and was often seen driving by Reese's home on Meaford Road and the family's house. That's why Reese was pursuing other job opportunities and accelerating her plans to move South.
Ellis was determined not to let that happen, according to police.
Investigators knew what happened inside Reese's new green sport utility vehicle shortly after they found it idling in an Eggertsville parking lot just after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Reese was dead in the driver's seat.
She had been shot once behind the ear. Ellis, 36, was found in the back seat, with his 9 mm semiautomatic handgun nearby. He shot himself in the temple, police said, and died about an hour and a half later in Erie County Medical Center.
Police said Reese's Canisius College graduate class let out at 500 Corporate Parkway at about 8:45 p.m. Ellis' vehicle was found in the parking lot there.
Wednesday, authorities were still piecing together the circumstances that led to Reese getting into her vehicle with Ellis. But, they may never know for sure.
Police suspect Ellis either hid in her vehicle or forced her inside.
"I guess you would call it a kidnapping," Amherst Police Chief John J. Moslow said. "If it wasn't a kidnapping, and if they were on friendly terms, why was he in the back seat? We'll probably never know, unless we find some witnesses."
Investigators suspect that some property the couple bought together might have made it more difficult for Reese to completely break away from Ellis. Erie County real-estate records show that the couple bought a Genesee Street property together for $13,400 in December 2002.
Reese's mother said her daughter purchased the green SUV specifically with the intent "to throw [Ellis] off" after he had been stalking her. "The general impression I got was that her family was concerned, because he kept coming back," one police source said. "He didn't seem to go away, and she wanted to move on."
Family members told police they weren't aware of any court order of protection that Reese might have had against Ellis.
"Your kids always say to you 'Aww Mom, it's OK . . . he's not as crazy as you think,' " Jones said. "She knew something, but wasn't letting on."
Reese, who worked as an administrator at Verizon, was described by her mother as an "outgoing, fun-loving person."
Reese was reportedly more than halfway through the Canisius master's program in communication and leadership. She was a graduate of Riverside High School and D'Youville College and was also a hairdresser, her mother said.
Her children, Dominique, 18, who is five months pregnant with Reese's granddaughter, Jazmine, 12, and her 8-year-old son were taken in by Jones.
"I lost my child. Her children lost their mother. Her father lost a daughter. Her grandmother lost a grandchild," Jones said.
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