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In Radnor Wawa, 30 seconds of terror: How a years-long custody battle escalated to murder

After a bitter six-year custody battle, the killing took all of 30 seconds.

Police tape in place at the location of a fatal shooting inside a Wawa, at 151 Sugartown Road, in Radnor, PA, March 29, 2019.
Police tape in place at the location of a fatal shooting inside a Wawa, at 151 Sugartown Road, in Radnor, PA, March 29, 2019.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

After a bitter divorce, Stephanie Miller and Brian Kennedy agreed to meet at the local Wawa for their weekly child-custody exchanges because there would always be witnesses and surveillance cameras.

In the end, police say, that didn’t deter Kennedy from walking into the store on March 28 with a semiautomatic rifle and gunning down his ex-wife as horrified customers looked on.

The killing took all of 30 seconds.

The Devon man now sits in Delaware County prison, charged with first- and third-degree murder and related offenses in the killing of the mother of his 6-year-old child. Police identified Kennedy, 34, even before they found him hours after the shooting, overdosed in his car at a Glen Mills park 15 miles from the Wawa on Sugartown Road.

Inside the store, police officers called to the scene recognized Miller, authorities said. They knew of the volatile relationship she had with her ex. Three years earlier, Kennedy had threatened to kill Miller at the same Wawa.

Now, there he was in images from the store’s security cameras, walking in with an AR-15 in hand, looking for someone.

Miller had arrived at the Wawa thinking she was going to pick up her son. Instead, she walked into a death trap — one that authorities say was carefully set by a man who she said once told her she would be “punished for years to come” for not reconciling with him.

At 8:20 p.m. on March 28, Kennedy backed his black BMW into a parking spot in front of the Radnor Township store, a small, older-style Wawa that sits at the end of a sleepy strip off Lancaster Avenue next to a beer distributor and a pizza shop. The tall, dark-haired man went to his trunk, pulled out a DTI AR-15 that he’d bought 12 days earlier, and walked inside.

As he looked around the store, rifle in hand, Kennedy wore a stern expression, his face visible beneath a dark hooded sweatshirt. The cashier later told police the man, a regular, looked agitated. Without saying a word, he walked up to Miller and began firing. He shot her repeatedly in the head and stomach at point blank range, as terrified employees dove to the floor, they later told police.

Twenty-six seconds after walking into the Wawa, Kennedy ran out, got into the front seat of his car with the rifle, and drove off. Miller’s lifeless body lay on the Wawa floor surrounded by spent shell casings.

Miller’s family and friends are now left to grieve for the 37-year-old occupational therapist who loved bringing people together for potluck meals, concerts, or dinners in Center City. They called her ability to connect people the “Stephanie Effect,” said longtime friend Dan Feldman.

Most of all, her friends said, Miller loved being a mother. Her death sparked an outpouring of support for her son. A GoFundMe set up by Miller’s parents had raised nearly $39,000 as of Friday.

On Kennedy’s Instagram, he was the picture of a doting father. He shared videos of the boy often, sometimes multiple times a day. He documented father and son going to the movies, eating dinner, playing in the snow, even doing such mundane tasks as brushing their teeth.

In reality, Kennedy was troubled, angered by his 2013 divorce and a custody agreement that limited his time with his son to Tuesday through Thursday. Hundreds of pages of court documents in both Delaware and Chester Counties show how hard Kennedy pushed to expand that arrangement and how his anger at his ex-wife grew over the years.

In August 2016, just months after Kennedy threatened to kill Miller in the checkout line of the same Wawa, a judge foreshadowed the volatility to come.

“This is such a sensitive situation,” Delaware County Court Judge Barry C. Dozor said, “and it could explode.”

When Miller’s lawyer, Stephen Baer, heard that a woman had been killed at the Wawa, he shuddered. He knew that under their custody agreement, Miller and Kennedy had for years picked up and dropped off their son at that location.

“I was afraid it was Stephanie Miller,” Baer said. “I had a bad feeling.”

Miller first sought protection from Kennedy after a divorce mediation consult in February 2013, Chester County court records show. As they headed home — Miller behind the wheel and Kennedy in the back seat with their then-9-month-old son — he became increasingly upset, telling Miller she better “watch out” or she was “going to get hurt,” according to a temporary protection-from-abuse order filed in Chester County.

Kennedy had threatened Miller before, she told authorities, so she fumbled for her cell phone to try to record what was happening. Realizing what Miller was trying to do, Kennedy began clawing at the right side of her face as she drove, according to the documents.

Miller pulled into the parking lot of the Sugartown Road Acme, across the street from the Wawa where she would be killed six years later. She told police she wanted to be in a public place in case Kennedy’s anger escalated.

“Brian then violently pushed me out of the driver’s seat,” Miller wrote in the application for a protection-from-abuse order. “Once he sat in the driver’s seat, I attempted to calm him, stating ‘I just need to talk to you. Please don’t do this.’”

Kennedy sped off in Miller’s car, taking their son, her purse, her phone, and other personal belongings with him, she wrote. Miller said she was left crying and screaming for help in the middle of the parking lot. At the suggestion of a passerby, she walked into a nearby district judge’s office and called the police.

Kennedy was ordered to get anger management counseling and move out of the couple’s Devon apartment.

Three years later, while the couple were exchanging their son at Wawa, Kennedy whispered in Miller’s ear: “Get that [expletive] life insurance policy before I kill you,” according to Delaware County court documents. Kennedy was found guilty of harassment, and his threat became the basis for a protection-from-abuse order that lapsed this fall.

None of the reported threats involved weapons, and on PFA forms, neither Kennedy nor Miller indicated that he owned guns. After the shooting, no other weapons were discovered in Kennedy’s car or at his apartment.

Court records show that Kennedy struggled with mental-health issues. In December 2017, he took a medical leave of absence from his job as a respiratory therapist at Hahnemann University Hospital.

According to his leave request form, Kennedy was “depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, irritable,” experienced “poor concentration, poor sleep, lack of energy,” and was “struggling with activities of daily living (showering, brushing, changing).”

“Patient is undergoing significant emotional distress” due to ongoing divorce and child custody issues, the form read. Kennedy said he was hopeful about returning to work, but “is having extreme difficulty functioning currently,” according to the leave request.

While on leave, Kennedy continued to challenge the couple’s child-custody arrangement, repeatedly filing motions in Chester and Delaware County courts. In one, he asked Miller to turn over text messages, emails, a list of all sources of income, and receipts from various outings she took with the child.

He also applied for protection-from-abuse orders against Miller, saying she had threatened him, but those were ultimately struck down by judges who did not find the allegations credible.

In September, Kennedy took Miller to court in Delaware County and tried to get the protection-from-abuse order against him thrown out 15 days before it was set to expire.

At that hearing, Miller said Kennedy continued to text her in the middle of the night, saying he missed the relationship and asking if there were anything he could do to rekindle it.

“I continue to not feel safe,” Miller told the judge, “and I think this is another form of harassment that two weeks before it’s going to expire, I’m here fighting why it shouldn’t be removed anytime early.”

At their Tredyffrin Township home, Miller’s parents declined to speak with a reporter.

On their GoFundMe page, the couple said Miller devoted her life to helping others, especially the elderly and children with special needs.

“Our loss cannot be stated in words,” they wrote, “but she will be remembered by the lives she changed for the better.”

Friend David Miller, who recalled her as a kind, generous, and loving soul, said: "The world is a little less bright without her light.”

Staff writer Katie Park contributed to this article.