RALEIGH, North Carolina — Just over 8km into her Thursday night run along the familiar River Neuse greenway, Raleigh mother-of-three Susan Karnatz was shot dead by a 15-year-old boy whose shooting caused killed five people, injured two, and frightened hundreds more in surrounding neighborhoods.
Her husband, Tom Karnatz, said she died 1.9 miles from her 7-mile goal that day. Now runners around the world are finishing the last leg of the race that Karnatz was never able to complete.
Organize under the hashtag #RunforSue, hundreds of runners share photos of their runs – often 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) to complete her run, 5.1 miles (8.2 kilometers) to mark the distance she has run, or 7 miles (11 .2 kilometres) to reach her goal – on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to show the Karnatz family how much she has inspired. Runners as far away as Panama, Australia and Ireland have already dedicated their daily races to him.
The teenager who killed Karnatz and four others was arrested hours after the shooting, police said. He was hospitalized after his arrest and remains in critical condition.
The victims, aged 16 to their late 50s, died while going about their daily lives, friends and authorities said. Karnatz, 49, had just left home for a run on one of her favorite paths, her husband said.
A four-time Boston Marathon runner-up and beloved member of several local running groups, friends and family remember Karnatz as “a beacon of strength,” the “rock of his family,” and “a role model” for other moms. She worked as a school psychologist before taking a break to homeschool her three sons, aged 14, 13 and 10. The boys often joined their parents on short distances, which their friends described as a family affair.
“She was a very loving wife and an incredible mother to our three sons,” her husband told The Associated Press in tears when he answered her door Friday morning. “We are heartbroken and miss her very much.”
Underneath a basketball hoop in the family’s driveway, a silver van and a Toyota Camry display 26.2 stickers corresponding to the mileage of a marathon. The van’s license plate simply reads: “RUNNR”.
“We had plans together for great adventures,” Tom Karnatz wrote in a Facebook post. “And plan the mundane days in between together.” … Now those plans are messed up.
The #RunforSue messages – some from friends and many from complete strangers – were a bright spot in an otherwise devastating week.
“I’m amazed at all the support,” Tom Karnatz wrote on Facebook Sunday after running 1.9 miles with his sons, niece and brother.
The Karnatzes met in 2004 at a North Carolina Roadrunners Club rally and remained involved with the organization for nearly 20 years, club president Jack Threadgill said.
Just before Threadgill pinned his red and white bib for Sunday’s Bull City Race Fest, a half marathon in nearby Durham, the Cary resident grabbed a black marker and scribed his bib with ‘SBK’ to Susan Butler Karnatz.
He spent the weekend reminiscing about fond memories of Karnatz, like when they ran with his kids at the club’s social run in February from one Snoopy’s Hot Dogs to another.
“It’s a Raleigh institution,” he joked – a momentary pause from his somber tone.
The club will meet for a pre-planned run at the end of October, where members will have the chance to write condolence cards and donate to the family’s charities of choice – a lifesaving animals and a children’s literacy project. An annual memorial run will likely be held.
Karissa McDonough had been close friends with Karnatz for about six years, and the two ran the Boston Marathon together in 2019. After the shooting, the mother from Waterbury Center, Vermont, carefully explained the tragedy to her 14-year-old daughter, Eireann before asking her if she wanted to come running to honor her late friend.
“Her eyes lit up and she said, ‘It’s important to mom, so yeah, for sure I want to do it,'” McDonough said.
Blasting “the ultimate pump song” – Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” – through the car windows, Eireann strapped on her rollerblades and a skull helmet as her mother drove them to the trailhead. They climbed the mountain to a ski resort, passing riders and other runners before stopping to reflect on a covered bridge.
As a mother of three, McDonough, 47, said she always looked up to Karnatz as a role model. Even when they were apart, Karnatz filled his days with constant laughter and encouragement after McDonough’s husband died of illness in January. Now McDonough said she is devastated that Tom Karnatz and his sons have to go through similar pain.
“When I met her, it was like meeting myself,” she said of her friend. “We got so close because we were living the same life, just, you know, thousands of miles away.”
Other runners, like Tom Blennerhassett of Kildare, Ireland, had never met Karnatz but paid tribute to him from afar. After seeing a friend in North Carolina post about the shooting on Instagram, Blennerhassett said he realized “it really struck a chord.” His community, he said, is still recovering from the murder earlier this year of a 23-year-old schoolteacher who was running along a canal.
Blennerhassett, who has been training for the upcoming Dublin Marathon, ran a 5.1-mile loop Sunday in honor of Karnatz along busy roads and across open plains while listening to his soft rock playlist – with songs from U2, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
“A kind of mental and physical recovery,” he said. “It was nice to think of someone like that who lost his life so senselessly when he was just running, the things we take for granted every day.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow her on Twitter at @H—Schoenbaum.