Michael D'Arco had bought an engagement ring for his girlfriend Stephanie Miller. He never got the chance to propose.
Miller, a 37-year-old occupational therapist, was gunned down inside a Radnor Township Wawa store. Investigators in the Philadelphia suburb say her ex-husband, 34-year-old Brian Kennedy, shot and killed her with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle during a scheduled custody exchange.
"She was a selfless person that was the happiest soul that you could imagine," a heartbroken D'Arco told NBC10 in an exclusive interview Sunday. "Regardless of all the adversity in her day to day."
The deadly shooting occurred inside the Wawa on 151 Sugartown Road around 8:20 p.m. Thursday. According to an affidavit of probable cause, Kennedy shot Miller "at point blank range" in the head and stomach.
Kennedy was scheduled to exchange the couple's child at the store, but he apparently arrived alone, Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland said.
A cashier at the store told police that when Kennedy arrived, he appeared "agitated," had a "stern" look on his face and "said nothing," according to the affidavit.
"With an ArmaLite 15, he brutally murdered the mother of his child in a public place in cold blood, placing numerous others at risk. He then cowardly fled the area," Copeland said.
Kennedy fled the scene in a black BMW, according to witnesses. Multiple agencies searched for Kennedy. A SWAT Team and Pennsylvania State Police troopers eventually found him in Thornbury Park in Glen Mills, investigators said.
He was taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center for what police determined to be a drug overdose, according to the affidavit. He faces first- and third-degree murder, criminal homicide and related charges once he's released from the hospital.
Kennedy hasn't yet been assigned a public defender, according to court records.
Kennedy was previously arrested by Radnor Township police in 2016 after being accused of threatening to kill Miller at the exact same Wawa store where she was killed three years later.
Miller had previously been granted a protective order against her ex-husband, but it expired in September of last year, the district attorney said.
D'Arco told NBC10 he had been in a relationship with Miller since she divorced Kennedy.
"Every day we lived in fear that he would come to kill us," he said.
D'Arco also said he had to spend $7,000 in legal bills just prior to the protection from abuse order expiring.
"That is why it was not renewed," he said. "Because Stephanie had been a victim of a judicial system that she got caught up in with no advocates. No help."
D'Arco told NBC10 Kennedy created a nightmare riddled with paperwork and baseless accusations.
"He wasn't considered an escalated situation because he wasn't considered a felon," D'Arco said.
Miller sent an email to Tredyffrin Township police just six hours before she was killed, according to D'Arco. The email said in part, "I do not feel safe around this man who has been found guilty of simple assault and harassment against me. Now he is trying to get me to meet him in person tonight at 8 p.m."
D'Arco said Miller reached out to police around 2 p.m. that day and informed them of Kennedy's threat against her. He claims they never heard back from them.
"We need to have a system that links together the facts," D'Arco said. "It's all presented in front of us and we need to have the due diligence. We need to be thoughtful. And we need a 21st century process."
Now all D'Arco can do is remember the love of his life as best as he can.
"She purely focused on helping others. That was her main goal," he said. "Her quote was, 'Let the light shine through.' Because that's what she felt. That this world has darkness and she can extend the light to shine through."