Utah Mom Was Fatally Shot in Her Driveway, Allegedly by Man, Woman Who Were Out on Parole

On Wednesday, 24-year-old James Dekota Brunson and Anika Celeste Thorpe, 23, were each charged with murder in the March 11, 2020, death of Linda Nemelka, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press release.

Nemelka, 57, was found shot five times in the driveway of a friend’s Millcreek house. Investigators believe her death was part of a seemingly random carjacking, KUTV reports.

The killing occurred while both Brunson and Thorpe were out on parole, the sheriff’s office said. The following day, the pair were arrested on unrelated charges and have remained behind bars ever since.

Speaking to the Deseret News, Nemelka’s family says the news has brought them one step closer to closure.

“I think closure will come in time,” Nemelka’s daughter, Jessica Nemelka, told the paper. “Having answers is definitely helpful, it really is. But I think closure will come when everything is finished. It’s going to be a long court process, it’s going to be a very long timeline from here on out. And having answers is part of its own closure. But it doesn’t change what happened, it doesn’t bring her back. But it does help.

While Nemelka’s family has gone a year without answers, Jessica Nemelka said they’re finding some solace in knowing the people allegedly responsible have been unable to hurt anyone else.

“Any rage and anger is mitigated that they were apprehended literally within days after they killed our mother,” Jessica Nemelka said, according to the News. “It’s actually incredibly comforting to some of us that they were incarcerated a couple of days (after the killing) for a completely separate charge. It’s comforting to know they were off the streets.”

She continued: “Now that we know it’s more like a random carjacking, it’s not more comforting — nothing could make this comforting — but it was absolutely the wrong place, wrong time for her. And that’s unfortunate, but it’s better than being someone that she knew who targeted her for a personal reason…There is no sense to be made of it.”

Bruson was out on parole for two months and four days before Nemelka’s killing. According to the sheriff’s office, he was paroled on Jan. 7, 2020, after he was convicted in a 2017 case in which he “terrorized and robbed a woman in American Fork and stole her car.”

Now, as Bruson and Thorpe await trial, Nemelka’s family is remembering the 57-year-old as a “beacon of light.”

“She was a friend to everyone she met,” Jessica Nemelka told the News of her mother. “She was the kind of woman who could go to a grocery store and make three best friends just waiting in line because everyone felt like they could just open up to her and talk to her about personal things and we do miss that about her. She had a very giving spirit, a giving nature.”

Attorney information for both suspects was not available Friday morning. It was not immediately clear if either has entered a plea to the charges against them.