FLORENCE, Texas — A 26-year-old man was arrested for murder on Saturday, Aug. 13, after the fatal shooting of a 70-year-old woman found near Florence earlier this month.
John Foster, the commander of the Criminal Investigations Division of the Williamson County Sheriff's Office (WCSO), said that at approximately 8:45 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4, Williamson County received a 911 call regarding a shooting in the 4500 block of County Road 245, just outside of Florence.
When deputies arrived, they found a 70-year-old woman – later identified as Diana Lynn Pier of Florence – dead in the roadway. Foster said Pier was in Round Rock that day and was traveling toward her home in Florence after meeting with a family member before she was shot.
"We're talking about a 70-year-old churchgoing woman, a pillar of the community in Florence. Most everybody knew her. This is one of those cases that you … when something like this happens in a very rural part of the county, it really throws everybody for a loop," Foster said.
On Saturday, Aug. 13, authorities arrested Joshua Anthony Gilbreath from Pflugerville in connection with the death.
Deputies said Gilbreath was turned over to Williamson County detectives by the U.S. Marshals Office after being located in a parking lot at 2051 Gattis School Road in Round Rock around 3 a.m. He was charged with murder and taken into custody without incident.
“We believe this was an unprovoked random act of violence. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office appreciates the support that the Williamson County community has shown towards the solving of this tragic crime,” Foster said.
According to an affidavit obtained by KVUE, a neighbor in the area where Pier was found reported seeing a silver-colored four-door vehicle – later identified as Gilbreath's – with its flashers on parked in front of her residence in the southbound lane of traffic. The witness said she saw a vehicle, later identified as Pier's, pass Gilbreath's vehicle before pulling into the driveway area.
The witness said she saw a subject run from the back of Pier's vehicle to Gilbreath's vehicle, which was still parked in the roadway. Gilbreath's vehicle then left the area at a high rate of speed, according to the affidavit.
The witness told detectives that when she first saw Gilbreath's vehicle parked in front of her residence, she thought it was suspicious. She observed the actions that followed by using a pair of binoculars.
The affidavit states that after Gilbreath's vehicle left the area, the witness walked to the end of her driveway and found a woman, later identified as Pier, lying in the roadway in a pool of blood. She checked for a pulse but did not detect one, so she called 911.
Medics who arrived on scene confirmed Pier was dead as the result of an apparent gunshot wound to the head.
The witness provided investigators with a description of the person inside the vehicle that left the scene, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit then states that on Aug. 11, a man called Williamson County 911 dispatch asking to speak to a detective about the investigation into Pier's murder. An investigator called the man back, during which time the man said a friend confessed to him that he had "shot a white woman." The investigator arranged an interview with the tipster.
During the interview, the tipster informed detectives that on Aug. 6, he met with his friend – later identified as Gilbreath – at a bar in Pflugerville. Gilbreath told him that he needed to tell him something but couldn't tell him inside the bar. The went outside and got into the tipster's car, with Gilbreath asking if they could put their phones on the roof of the vehicle.
Once their phones were on top of the vehicle, the tipster told detectives that Gilbreath confessed to shooting a "white woman in the Jarrell area," according to the affidavit.
"[Gilbreath] stated he pulled his vehicle over on a side road and a vehicle pulled over behind his vehicle. The woman got out of her vehicle, and he shot her when she approached him," the affidavit states.
The tipster said he didn't learn any more from Gilbreath at the time because he though Gilbreath was lying.
On Aug. 11, the WCSO provided information to the media about Pier's murder, which the tipster overheard his father watching. He then realized that what Gilbreath told him was consistent with what investigators were relaying.
After speaking to the tipster, investigators determined that Gilbreath fit the description the witness at the scene provided, that he was in the area at the time of the crime and that he was at the Pflugerville bar at the time the tipster described. Investigators also determined that Gilbreath had recently purchased pistol cartridges that were the same brand as one found at the scene of the shooting.
Gilbreath is currently in the Williamson County Jail on a $1 million bond.
Foster said the WCSO has reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Texas Department of Public Safety's Criminal Investigations Unit to assist in this case.
Anyone with any information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1800-253-7867 or the Williamson County Sheriff's Office tip line at 512-943-1311.
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