Mikayla Paulus and Adam Simjee decided to take a spontaneous trip to Alabama’s Cheaha State Park before returning to college in Florida this week.
Traveling was something the couple of 4 ½ years loved to do together, and a day spent in nature seemed like the perfect way to end the summer.
Instead, it ended in a horrific nightmare when Simjee was fatally shot during a robbery attempt on a National Forest Service Road. Investigators say the robbery and subsequent killing were carried by a woman was with a group of other people “living off the grid” in a camp in the national forest.
“I lost the love of my life,’’ Paulus said in an interview with AL.com. “This will be with me forever.”
Authorities late Tuesday said Yasmine Hider, age unavailable, and Krystal Pinkins, 36, are charged with murder, two counts of kidnapping and two counts of robbery.
Pinkins is being held in the Clay County Jail. Hider remains in custody at UAB Hospital in Birmingham after she was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with Simjee.
District Judge David Law on Wednesday issued a gag order in the case that prevents anyone associated with the case – including lawyers and witnesses – from speaking with the media about the case.
Simjee, 22, was about to begin the finance program at the University of Central Florida, and Paulus, 20, was beginning work on her master’s degree in counseling, also at UCF.
“We were starting school on Monday, so we wanted to do one last road trip,’’ Paulus said.
“I guess our moms felt something because they didn’t want us to go and told us to be safe. I told my mom we would be safe because Adam had his gun.”
The couple arrived at Cheaha State Park in Clay County, taking in the waterfalls and Boulder Rock.
It was mid-morning when they were flagged down by two women who said they were having car trouble, and the couple stopped to help. That is the way they were raised, and what they had been taught to do.
“I called my dad (to ask for car repair advice), watched some YouTube videos and tried to fix car,’’ Paulus said. “When we realized it couldn’t be fixed, I asked if she needed anything else.”
“She (Hider) pulled a gun, said put your hands up, walk into the woods and drop your phone and keys,’’ Paulus recounted.
Simjee, she said, was a “proud supporter of the Second Amendment” and had tucked his gun in his waistband when they stopped to help the women.
“He had his gun in his waistband the whole time because he said it was suspicious and this is how people get robbed,’’ Paulus said.
“My whole body went numb, but I knew I would at least be OK,’’ she said. “I was terrified, but I knew at any point Adam was going to pull his gun out.”
“He always made sure that I knew that I was protected and taken care of,’’ she said.
Hider asked them for their banking information and cell phone passwords.
“When she (the suspect) dropped her guard for a second, and lowered her gun for a second, he pulled out his gun and told her to get on the ground,’’ Paulus said. “She started messing with her gun and it was jamming but they shot at each other.”
“She was shot three times and he was shot once. Her femur was shattered so she couldn’t get away,’’ she said.
The second female suspect – Pinkins – ran off into the woods once the gunfire erupted.
Paulus called 911 and remained on the phone with dispatchers for about 30 minutes. “I had to do chest compressions the last five minutes,’’ she said.
Simjee was unresponsive and never spoke again after he was shot.
“He went down, and he was struggling,’’ she Paulus said.
Sheriff Jim Studdard on Tuesday while they were searching for the second suspect – Pinkins – they were led to a large group of tents that had been sent up in the forest. He described it as a base camp, which was located about a half mile from the crime scene.
As authorities were approaching the base camp, they observed Pinkins standing near the tents. As officers were ordering Pinkins to the ground, a 5-year-old child ran from the woods holding a loaded shotgun.
Law enforcement officers told the child to put down the weapon however the child continued to his mother’s location before putting the gun on the ground. Pinkins is also charged with endangering the welfare of a child, and the child is now in the custody of DHR.
Paulus returned to Florida Monday to be with her family.
She said her relationship with Simjee was like a fairytale and she had been expecting an engagement ring from him any day.
“He kept it a secret,’’ she said, “but we were definitely going to get married and have kids and be together.”
This is what she posted on Facebook:
“Yesterday my world ended. I had to watch as my reason for being, my soulmate, my life partner, the future father of my child, died in the middle of a state park in Alabama. No words can begin to describe the shock and pain I’m in. We had our entire lives ahead of us.
Adam is the best person I’ve ever met on the face of this entire planet. He was the most pure soul and he died protecting me.
It comforts me to say he passed in one of his favorite places, the forest in the mountains.”
She said losing Simjee was her biggest fear.
“I always asked him what he expected me to do if he died,’’ she wrote. “His answer was to take care of our children, (at the time it was three cats) so that’s what I’ll do.”
Paulus said Simjee was creative, smart and selfless. “He would do anything for anybody,’’ she said.
He died protecting her, as he always said he would do.
“If he didn’t have his gun, I don’t know if I would have made it,’’ she said. “So, he really is my hero and that’s exactly something he would do.”
She said the pain is something she’s never experienced nor expected.
“There’s no way this is my real life right now. It’s absolutely horrible,’’ Paulus said. “I can’t imagine it being much worse.”
Asked about the two women who committed the crime, Paulus said, “They were starving and desperate and that’s what people do when they’re desperate.”
Paulus said she feels like she will forever be change.
“I definitely learned that you can’t help anybody anymore. You never know what people’s true intentions are,’’ she said. “You can’t help people anymore without worrying about your safety.”
“Adam, such an intelligent, hard-working, humble, loving human being,’’ the GoFundMe reads. “Adam died protecting Mikayla and will forever be remembered as a hero.”