Emeri Connery was 26 years old at the time this all occurred. She was born on September 21, 1992 to parents Sheri and Fred and was one of a set of triplets. Her brothers were Klint and Kyle. The trio also had an older sister, Madison.
While the triplets were attending Eastern High School in Reedsville, Ohio, they began taking weight training and aerobics very seriously. Emeri competed in cross country, track and field and basketball.
Apart from her passion for fitness, Emeri was also highly educated – she obtained a master’s degree in health administration.
In 2013, she became inspired to start weight lifting after one of her brothers, Klint, began competing in the field. According to the website greatestphysiques.com, in 2014, at the age of 21, Emeri appeared in her first show – the NPC Pittsburgh Championships.
Although she didn’t win, she gained valuable experience to help her improve in future contests – even managing to place 14th and 9th in her debut competitions.
She kept competing in shows, and in 2017 she placed first in the Mountaineer Classic competition, just three years after her debut show.
Along the way, Emeri became a successful fitness model. Her fitness-based social media accounts list hundreds of thousands of followers. Her insta is still up and she has 299k followers there. It’s a public account and you can see many photos of her showcasing products and companies that she collaborated with. You can also see her insane level of fitness from her photos.
Emeri is quoted as saying “I have a passion for living a healthy lifestyle and helping others do the same.” And “It is my mission to help people change their lives, accomplish their goals and be more confident. “
Emeri is also showcased on the site ‘Girls with Muscle’. There are 197 photos of her on there.
While there is much online about Emeri, there is very little about her cousin Bailey Smith. He was younger than Emeri and was 21 at the time he died. He was born around 1997 to his parents Shawn and Kelli, and he had a sister, Jayda.
According to his obituary, Bailey graduated from Union High School in Big Stone Gap, Virginia in 2015. He went into training and entered the police force in early 2018.
Bailey loved hunting, fishing, four-wheeling, and working on cars and motorbikes. Based on what we can see on his social media accounts, seemed to have a large group of peers and friends who respected him.
Bailey and Emeri were cousins – their mothers are sisters Her mother is Sherri Blanken, his mother is Kelli Blanken Smith. Based on facebook posts, both families seem to be very close. In a recent post from this year, Sherri has congratulated Bailey’s sister Jayda on her graduation.
So, what happened to Emeri and Bailey?
On March 9, 2019, the families attended a wedding in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Photos of the event were posted online – Emeri looked stunning in a hot pink dress and Bailey wore a plaid shirt. In one photo, they stand next to each other.
At around 8pm that night, Bailey and Emeri left the wedding together. The events following the pair leaving were unclear at the time.
All that was known is that at 4am on March 10, 2019, residents who live near US 23 near Big Stone Gap reported hearing gunshots and the sound of a car crashing.
A 2015 GMC pickup that had been travelling north on Route 23 had run off the left side of the highway and travelled into a median. Police responded to the scene and they found both Bailey and Emeri, dead in the vehicle. And they had both suffered gunshot wounds.
The news of their deaths broke quickly online. Many people made facebook posts, honouring the two.
The town of Big Stone Gap organised a funeral procession for Bailey Smith, to be held on March 13. There was no mention of any such fanfare for Emeri.
A news article by the Coalfield Progress says the town ‘ went blue’ to honor Bailey Smith’s memory and as a nod to his police force service – local businesses put up blue ribbons and a wreath with Bailey’s name and badge number inside the door of the Town Hall. An online fundraiser for Bailey’s family raised over $15,000.
For a few days following their deaths, there was much online speculation about what had happened. Was this a murder-suicide? A murder? Or even a suicide pact? In our Facebook group, many people chatted about the lack of fanfare for Emeri’s life as possibly being an indicator that she had killed Bailey, before turning the gun on herself.
On March 14, 2019, Tracie Cooper, an administrator from the Medical Examiner’s office in Roanoke confirmed that both Bailey and Emeri each died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Cooper said that following autopsies, Bailey’s cause of death was listed as suicide and Emeri’s cause of death was homicide.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller also confirmed that Bailey’s police service weapon was not the gun used in the murder-suicide.
Things went crazy online following the confirmation that Bailey was the killer. Everyone was questioning why Emeri’s death was essentially being played down, and why Bailey was being celebrated so publicly.
Along with the police procession and the fundraiser for Bailey (nothing similar seems to have existed for Emeri), even Emeri’s mother made a facebook post honouring him “I love you Bailey Boy! Take care of my baby girl! #514”
Another family member also made a post about Bailey’s death, and the only mention of Emeri was at the end:
Not everyone in the area was as quick to forgive and forget what Bailey did:
Emeri’s Celebration of Life service was held on March 23, at her former high school. The family asked that memorials be made to the Emeri Connery Flying Eagle Scholarship Fund. I tried to see if I could find more about this fund but there isn’t anything online. I did see that one student received $1,000 from the Emeri Connery Memorial Scholarship in May 2020. You can see Emeri’s obituary here.
In September 2019, six months after Bailey and Emeri died, The Lee County Commonwealth’s Attorney, H. Fuller Cridlin released his report on the case. We finally learned some more about what happened on the night they died. You can read our original blog post about the report here.
As we knew earlier, Bailey and Emeri attended the wedding together on March 9, 2019 in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. They left the wedding together, at around 8pm. It is believed that Bailey was driving.
They drove to Johnson City, Tennessee which, according to google maps is around 60 miles and just over an hour away from where the wedding was. They arrived there at around 8pm. Online rumors say that they were leaving so Emeri could take Bailey out on the town to celebrate his 21st birthday.
While in Johnson City, Bailey’s car got towed after he accidentally parked it in a restricted area. He managed to recover the vehicle from the towing company at some point during the night.
Bailey and Emeri and their friends went to two bars in Johnson City that night. They consumed alcohol at both venues. Their friends said that it was a normal evening and there was nothing amiss between the cousins. Bailey and Emeri got back into the car and left Johnson City at around 1.15am. Bailey was driving and Emeri was in the front passenger seat –nobody else was in the vehicle.
Around half an hour after they left, at 1.46am, the final activity from Emeri’s phone was recorded. She searched for the location of a McDonalds restaurant. Her phone was not used after this time.
They got to the McDonalds drive-thru in Gray, Tennessee at 1.54am. There is CCTV footage of the two in the car, and it shows they are still the only people in the vehicle.
Right before they arrived at McDonalds, Bailey started a conversation on facetime with a friend and this continued as they went through the drive-thru. The friend has since said that Bailey seemed intoxicated when they spoke.
After the Facetime ends, Bailey made no other calls. He did send a few texts while driving and told people that Emeri is asleep. He also declined one incoming call, right before their car crashed.
Daylight savings changed that night in the area, so we are now at about 4am. Their car crashed into a mile marker in Lee County, Virginia. According to google maps, Lee County is about 55 miles or one hours drive from their last stop at McDonalds. This location matches up with how far they should have travelled in that time – it seems unlikely they stopped anywhere else.
A Virginia State Police trooper arrived on the scene at 4.36am. He observed no damage to the vehicle, apart from what had clearly occurred during the accident. The windows of the vehicle were rolled up.
When he checked the occupants of the car, he saw that they both had gunshot wounds. He immediately called the VSP Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Forensic investigators arrived at the scene in the next few hours after the crash. They determined that there had been no effort made to either brake or accelerate right before the crash.
Bailey’s gun was found in the vehicle on the seat near his mid section.
Following an autopsy, Emeri was found to have one gunshot wound to the face. She was struck in her upper cheek. This injury killed her.
Bailey was found with a gunshot to the right temple. Investigators determined that this wound was self inflicted.
A third bullet was found in the car – this had travelled through the driver’s seat and did not strike anybody.
All the bullets were found to have been fired from Bailey’s gun and there was no evidence of a struggle in the vehicle. Blood spatter analysis showed that the shooting occurred before the crash – blood on the airbags showed that they deployed after shots were fired.
It’s interesting to note that witness accounts of what happened that night are different to the official versions. Clarence “Toots” Taylor, who lives yards from the crash location near U.S. 23’s mile marker 28, said that he heard five shots moments after the auto accident. The official report says that the gunshots occurred before the crash.
“I woke up at three and looked at the clock and I said I’ve got about four more hours before I have to go to church,” Taylor said. “And it wasn’t long after that I heard that thump. I thought it was a rifle that went off at first but it didn’t crack like a rifle.
Asked if he saw or heard a vehicle or vehicles, Taylor said, “No, I didn’t get up and look. Most of the time when I hear a shot around here, I always turn the light on and look at the clock. But I was so tired I was wore out that day and I just rolled back over. “I wished the lord I’d looked out that window,” Taylor said. “Bang, bang, bang, and there was a hesitation and another bang, a hesitation and another bang.”
Taylor said he stayed in his house until State Police investigators arrived later. “They came over and talked to me, but I told them I didn’t hear that truck,” said Taylor. “But after I got to thinking, that thump I heard I thought was a rifle was that truck hit that culvert. After that thump, it wasn’t just a minute or two till the pistol went off.”
Blood samples were also collected from Bailey and Emeri. The results showed that Bailey was drunk – he returned samples of 0.134 and 0.158. The legal limit is 0.08. This means that Bailey’s blood alcohol content was almost double the legal limit. Emeri’s BAC was under the legal limit.
And that is all we will likely ever know about the deaths of Bailey and Emeri. The official conclusion from the Lee County Commonwealth Attorney says:
Speculation about what caused Bailey to kill Emeri and then himself continues to this day. Online resources say that a murder-suicide is generally a crime of passion – in which the perpetrator commits the act against someone because of sudden strong impulse such as sudden rage rather than as a premeditated crime.
What made Bailey so angry that he killed Emeri and then himself? We usually see murder-suicides between husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends or estranged partners. Murder-suicide between cousins (especially male/female cousins) is very rare.
Some theories that have been tossed around online include:
- Bailey accidentally killed Emeri while reaching for his gun for some reason. When he realised what he had done, he took his own life.
- Bailey was officially classed as intoxicated, so it is possible that he could have panicked. If it was an accident and he panicked, it could also maybe explain the third shot that did not hit anyone? If it was an accident, it could also work towards explaining the amount of celebration Bailey received after his death.
- Was this a suicide pact as in Bailey agreed to kill Emeri and then himself? I find this highly unlikely but it has been thrown around as a possibility.
- Texts that Bailey sent mentioned that Emeri was asleep after they left McDonald’s. How could she anger him if she was asleep?
- Did Emeri do something to anger Bailey so much that he snapped? She was a gorgeous model. Online speculation is that possibly Bailey made some type of advance towards Emeri and he was rebuffed. He carried out the murder-suicide after he became angry about this, and was possibly worried about others finding out?
- We found this interesting post on Instagram. Someone commented and said ‘murdered by her cousin who also took his life.’. Someone with the user name Sheri Blanken (ie Emeri’s mother), responded and said ‘ this is not what happened so keep your fucking mouth shut.’
- If it wasn’t a murder-suicide, what is everyone trying to cover up? Mental illness on Bailey’s side maybe? I can’t think of anything else that would be ‘ shameful’.
There is an interesting article on medium.com, by Amy Brooks. It’s titled – Honor Emeri Connery and Bailey Smith: Speak the Truth. Here is an excerpt:
Emeri Connery, a 26-year-old woman, was murdered. This crime cannot be stated too plainly or too often, because hers was a precious life. Her soul can never be restored to this world, and her family will never hear her voice or her footsteps in their home again, never smell her perfume, never receive a text or cook a holiday meal with her. I urge every parent, every sibling, every best friend in our town to pause and consider the full weight of her loss. Worse than a natural death, her existence was ripped from her. This bears some silence and respect. It bears saying aloud that Emeri Connery’s story is forever tied, now, to the legacy and history of Big Stone Gap and its people. Maybe she wasn’t “from here.” But she is one of our own, finally and irrevocably. If we believe in anything sacred, we must honor her and speak her name. We must tell the truth about what was done to her in our home.
I never met Bailey Smith. Clearly he was dear in the hearts of many of us. What is he owed, in death? As the perpetrator of a terrible crime, and as a victim of a terrible crime against his own precious self? To look away from his suffering, to use flags and badges to numb ourselves to reality, seems too cruel — to Bailey, to his victim, to families seeking answers, and to a community that must recover from the bomb-like impact of a murder-suicide. About this suffering, too, we must tell the truth. However ugly the realities uncovered, they begin to lose their power to destroy us when we confront them together. When we call violence and illness by their right names, we begin to heal them as a community. In this way we honor Bailey more fully than with slogans and propaganda. We say goodbye by recognizing him for who he truly was: broken, suffering, and ultimately loved.
So, in terms of Emeri and Bailey, I don’t think we will ever know what led to their deaths that night. Maybe their families don’t even know?
A final quote that I found from Emeri’s brother Kyle said “Emeri was my triplet sister, She was the most amazing, beautiful, badass, and inspiring woman I’ll ever know. Klint and I love you and can’t wait to see you again. You’ll forever be a part of us.”