Two months ago, 70-year-old Penny Landrey called 911 from her car. Her ex-boyfriend had shot her in the head.
Post Falls police officers and Kootenai County Fire & Rescue firefighters sped to her home to find Landrey bloody but coherent inside her vehicle. Ex-boyfriend Kim Knerl had turned the gun on himself and was found dead outside.
“She was so calm,” said Pete Holley, one of the first firefighters on scene. “You could tell right from the get-go she was a fighter.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Landrey wrapped Holley in a hug and told him: “You’re my hero.”
Landrey is “a ray of sunshine,” said Melissa Zahnter, her niece.
She loves going out of her way to make someone else’s day better and always tries to help others, Zahnter said.
She moved to Post Falls from out-of-state and was a bit lonely so far away from family, Zahnter said.
Looking for companionship, Landrey met Knerl on a dating app in 2021. He seemed like a great guy, who loved animals, photography, music and cooking. His license plates read “for peace.”
“We had a lot in common,” she said.
The relationship moved quickly, with the two spending what Landrey thought was too much time together. She tried to break up with Knerl but “he just would not have anything to do with it,” she recalls.
Knerl begged her to continue seeing him so Landrey agreed with the limitation they only spend time together on weekends.
She had met Knerl’s friends and talked with his family on the phone. He seemed like an even-tempered guy who wouldn’t raise his voice toward his dogs, she said.
Knerl’s family declined to comment for this story.
“So, I didn’t really think there was any chance that he would hurt me,” Landrey said.
In December, Knerl broke into Landrey’s house early one morning, went into her bedroom and put his hand on her shoulder, she said. He said he had to talk to her, she recalled.
Landrey kicked him out of her house but that afternoon he came over drunk and banged on her front door, screaming her name, she said.
Landrey called 911 and had him trespassed from her property.
“He wouldn’t stop until the police came,” Zahtner said.
That ended the relationship but not the disturbing messages Knerl continued to send.
“I thought, well, I have enough evidence if I have to get a restraining order but I didn’t think it was going to go that far,” Landrey said. “So, I just let things lie.”
The day everything changed
On Feb. 1, Landrey was driving home when she saw Knerl’s car poking out from behind Post Falls Baptist Church across the street.
She quickly drove into her driveway and opened the garage door.
“It felt like it was going in slow motion,” Landrey said.
She pulled into the garage only to look back and see Knerl squatting down with his arms outstretched pointing a gun at her, Landrey recalled.
Knerl fired one shot hitting Landrey behind the ear. The bullet traveled through her skull and out her nose.
A second shot hit Landrey’s water heater but missed her, before Knerl shot himself outside of the garage, according to police.
Landrey, who was slumped over into her passenger’s seat, called 911.
“I remember saying I’ve just been shot. And she says, ‘Who shot you?’ And I said Kim Knerl,” Landrey recalled of talking to the dispatcher. “And she said ‘Who?’ And I said ‘Kim Knerl’ and I spelled his last name.”
Officers arrived to find Landrey bleeding all over the front seat of her car but surprisingly calm. Officer Jonathan Zibli put his fingers into the bullet wound on her neck to control the bleeding.
Not long after, Holley arrived and cut off Landrey’s brown leather jacket, one of the few things she remembers from the day.
Zibli helped Landrey walk out of the garage and over Knerl’s body to the ambulance, he recalled.
Most people shut down in a situation like that, Zibli said.
“The totally of the circumstances, she … it’s almost inhuman,” Zibli said of how Landrey handled it.
Both Zibli and Holley said if they hadn’t seen the bullet wound, it would have been hard to believe Landrey had just been shot based on how calm and responsive she was.
Landrey’s jaw was broken and required multiple surgeries. She had a tracheostomy and a feeding tube put in and her jaw was wired shut for more than a month.
She has nerve damage in one side of her face that prevents her from moving it or closing her eye. She has also been diagnosed with PTSD. Medical bills nearing $500,000 have also been a struggle, even with family creating a GoFundMe to help.
Despite all the pain and trauma, Landrey has kept her fighting spirit.
“She has absolutely been fighting like mad since she woke up to get better,” Zahtner said.
Domestic violence often an unreported crime
While Landrey saw some of the red flags in her relationship with Knerl, she never suspected he could be so violent.
A police investigation discovered that Knerl still was legally married and that his wife had left him due to his violent tendencies, said Christine “CJ” Jones, a crime victim advocate in the victim services unit of the Post Falls Police Department.
Often, with homicidal violence, the perpetrator has prior domestic violence convictions or reports on record, but in this case, there weren’t any, Jones said.
Domestic violence often goes unreported, Jones said. In Idaho, many things that are domestic abuse or precursors to domestic violence aren’t crimes, Jones added.
The four elements that make it a crime are physical abuse, sexual abuse, forced imprisonment or the threat of one of those things, Jones said.
Things like controlling behavior, stalking, isolation and verbal abuse often can’t be charged but are domestic abuse, she said.
Substance abuse, like alcohol in this case, often aggravates domestic violence, she added. The most dangerous time in a domestic violence situation is when the survivor decides to leave and the abuser loses their power, she added.
It’s still hard for Landrey to grasp why Knerl did what he did.
“If he was that angry, why did he have to include me in that?” Landrey said. “I didn’t know how disturbed he was until that day.”
Landrey hopes to encourage other women to ask for help and to talk to people in their lives and ask for their opinion when starting a new relationship.
“Don’t be afraid,” Landrey said. “I was always afraid of hurting somebody else’s feelings and I didn’t think about my own feelings.”
Honoring her lifesavers
Landrey wrapped Holley in a hug Tuesday with tears in her eyes as she met him for the first time since the day of the shooting.
Moments later it was all laughs when Landrey complained that Holley had cut off her brown leather jacket that she had saved for months to buy.
The entire room, full of firefighters, dispatchers and police officers, joined in their laughter.
For the group of first responders, it was a rare chance to see the impact of their work.
“Our calls are on people’s worst days,” said Nicole Leslie, the dispatcher who answered Landrey’s call. “Usually we don’t get the reward of seeing something like that.”
Greg McLean, Post Falls police chief, said in his 30 years with the department, this is the second time he can remember a survivor coming into speak with officers.
“It’s pretty rare,” McLean said. “She’s very fortunate, and I’m very proud of my officers.”
McLean commended Zibli, who had just recently come to the department after being a police officer in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, on his quick thinking that helped save Landrey’s life.
“For him to be able to step in and take action like that, it’s very impressive,” McLean said.
Holley, who is the division chief of emergency medical services at the Kootenai County Fire & Rescue, was visibly moved by meeting Landrey.
“We don’t get these opportunities that often,” he said.
Meeting the group of people that saved her life was Landrey’s last step before moving to Nevada to be close to her sisters.
She has a new lease on life and can’t wait to share that with her family, especially her two children and three grandchildren.
“I have a will to live that I never had before and I have an inner strength that I never knew I had until now,” Landrey said.
As she moves on to her new life, meeting the people who made that life possible was both gratifying and emotional.
With tears in her eyes and first responders gathered around her, Landrey said, “I feel safe in my life right now because of all of you.”
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