‘Wish it weren’t like this’: Ex-wife of Jared Bridegan, father killed in Jacksonville Beach, speaks

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Since Jared Bridegan’s shooting death in February, his ex-wife, Shanna Gardner, has become the target of suspicion and scorn while being stalked and photographed by tabloids. Through it all, she’s remained silent – until now.

Gardner, who is also known as Shanna Gardner-Fernandez, sat down for her only TV interview she says she will be doing with Action News Jax’s Kristen Rary. They talked for nearly 40 minutes and went through every detail of Gardner’s life with Bridegan and her life after his death.

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She began explaining why she has not spoken up so far.

“I do want people to understand where I’m coming from,” she said.

It has been almost five months since Bridegan was murdered in the street in front of his 2-year-old daughter. Gardner has not commented publicly so far. Our first question for her -- why have you stayed silent?

“I was asked to not talk to the media or give a public statement and I’ve tried really hard to do that. But with a level of speculation, I felt now it was necessary to speak out.”

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Gardner revealed she was asked by Bridegan’s widow, Kirsten, not to speak publicly. She revealed how the relationship could have gotten to that point.

“I’m sure that day … I would say that we’ve had happy moments. I mean, we share the two most beautiful children in the world. I might be a little biased.”

In 2015, Bridegan and Gardner divorced. Their court records, which we obtained from the St. Johns County Court system, revealed a long, complicated process, lasting over five years.

When addressed, Gardner explained, “Anytime divorce comes into any situation, it’s messy. It just is … I really want to respect his family and him. And I will say that I think that we both love our kids.”

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Bridegan and Gardner both wanted full custody of their twins, now 10 years old. The court file details allegations of spying, deceit and more. It’s part of what has put so much speculation on Gardner since Bridegan’s murder. In the end, the two reached a custody agreement.

They shared custody and whenever the children were at one parent’s house, the other would come over Wednesday and have a “date night.” That’s exactly what Bridegan and his twins did the night he was killed.

“It was actually one of the things … ” Gardner started to tear up as she spoke, “I’m sorry…” She paused to take a breath. “I remember my son, tucking him in, and him saying it was a good date night. He was happy and they both came in happy and we went through our normal routine and we can have some time to cuddle and then we’ll tuck you in.”

But that happiness would end. Just minutes after leaving his ex-wife’s house, just over two miles from her home, in a quiet neighborhood with few security cameras, a tire was rolled into the street. Bridegan got out of his car to move it and was shot dead.

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His two-year-old daughter sat in the car, strapped into her car seat, alone, for three minutes before someone came to help.

Gardner spoke of the moment she found out her ex-husband, the father of her twins, had been murdered.

“I found out in the middle of the night, and I was shocked. I fell to the floor because I was devastated. What I was gonna have to tell the kids. A complete shock.”

Bridegan died in that street, leaving behind four children and a heartbroken family. We asked Gardner about the moment she told her kids, with Kirsten and Kirsten’s father by her side, the next morning.

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“They were, I think, in shock. They were very emotional and that was kind of the beginning of their journey.”

That day, Gardner said Kirsten, Jared’s widow, texted her, asking her not to speak publicly about the murder. Later, in a blog post, Gardner’s mother said she was not invited to the funeral. We asked Gardner about the situation. She explained, “I will say that I wasn’t invited to the funeral. His family did not invite me or want me there.”

She told us her kids were too scared to leave her side, so, instead of going to the funeral, they held their own celebration.

But that’s when things changed for Gardner and the narrative around her involvement.

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The day before a vigil was hosted by Bridegan’s widow, Kirsten, at Celebration Park, Gardner was photographed there with her kids by the tabloid Daily Mail.

She said of the images and the article, “Talk about a violation of privacy. That was something not … it pulled the rug out from underneath us. Because my kids know they were photographed. And they were worried. They were worried that their images are out there, they were worried people might be following us.”

The tabloid presented the facts in a way that leaves room for speculation about Gardner having a role in Bridegan’s death, citing their rocky divorce papers and her absence from the funeral. Gardner discussed how the speculation made her feel.

“Even though we didn’t always get along, he was still the father of my kids.”

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So, Rary, sitting across from Gardner, several minutes into the conversation, asked the question on everyone’s minds.

“Did you have anything to do with Jared’s murder?”

Gardner answered, simply.

“No. I did not have anything to do with his murder.”

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Gardner went on to say she has no idea if the murder was targeted, or what Bridegan was involved in, saying they ran in different circles. But Action News Jax reported last month, Gardner had hired criminal defense attorney Hank Coxe.

She explained her reasoning: “I consulted with a criminal defense attorney with an attorney for my kids. He was referred to me by several friends and ultimately my kids’ images and videos were being used in the media without consent.”

Gardner said Coxe was hired to protect her kids and to keep them from having another run in with the Daily Mail.

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“They were concerned as well and uncomfortable. So, I consulted with an attorney on what my options were legally to keep them out of the media.”

We asked her if she thinks she will face criminal charges. She said no, that she has cooperated with detectives.

Rary asked, “Do you have any idea who might’ve done this?”

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Gardner denied any knowledge. “I do not have any idea. I … As I said, we’ve been divorced. We don’t run in the same social circles, all I know is that I would never want anyone to go through this.”

She told Action News Jax if she could speak to Bridegan again, she’d say one thing, “Honestly, I wish it weren’t like this. I wish things could have been and could be different.”

Police are still searching for leads and information in Bridegan’s murder. His ex-wife told Action News Jax despite everything her family has been through, they have no intention of leaving Jacksonville Beach.

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