‘He loved all types of people’

Family remembers murder victim

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]



Caitlynne Zagarella said losing her brother Jonathan Hofner has left her with a void that may never be filled.

“I love my brother,” she said.

Jonathan, 28, went missing in September, and his body discovered Oct. 23 in Montpelier, the victim of a fatal gunshot wound. His identity was confirmed Nov. 4 following records checks.

Bradley Steven Gilbert, 22, of Montpelier confessed to the shooting after fleeing to Surry County, North Carolina. He has been charged with aggravated murder, and waived extradition to Ohio.

Now as his family including nine brothers and sisters mourn his death and attempt to move forward, Zagarella and his father Tracy Finch offered a glimpse into Jonathan’s life and his gift for creativity and making new friends.

“Jon was a wonderful guy that would literally give the shirt off his back for a stranger,” Zagarella said. “He gave everyone a chance, and even if you messed up he would give a million chances. It is a loss to everyone that he is gone.”

Jonathan’s greatest hope was to be a good father, to give his son a better life, she said. His finest quality was his belief that everyone deserves a chance.

“He would become friends with complete strangers, and he always seemed to share a piece of himself,” Zagarella said. “He loved all types of people, freaky flaws and all. Jon wasn’t afraid when he met strangers, and he would sit and talk for hours to anyone.”

She said Jonathan seemed to sense when others were hurting or troubled and would offer to help. His artistic side included everything from song to dance to fire blowing. Zagarella said he enjoyed making his trademark ” hippy” bracelets for his nieces and nephews.

Jonathan last saw his father at a family birthday party. Their last words to each other were, “I love you. Bye.”

Finch was devastated when he received word from Jonathan’s mother Oct. 27 that their son had been killed.

“I was absolutely crushed, ” Finch said. “It’s all kind of like watching some bad horror movie. You turn it off, and hope in the morning it won’t be there.”

During the five years he was married to Jonathan’s mother, he tried to teach his son everyday skills “and be the dad.” As with many fathers and son, the lessons weren’t always readily accepted. But when he grew older Jonathan showed his appreciation.

“He actually thanked me about some of the things I taught him young. It was priceless,” Finch said.

They had a complex relationship, what he describes as “real hit or miss.” He said it was evident by the way Jonathan lived that he never felt as though he fit in.

“He pursued the underdog, the people who stood in the corner, who didn’t have that big of a voice,” Finch said. “He was seeking out his own space, what he wanted to accomplish.”

While there were no real issues between them, he didn’t see Jonathan regularly. He attributes that, in part, to what he perceived as Jonathan’s belief that his father, a self-described Bible-believing Christian, didn’t approve of his lifestyle, or the Goth friends he spent time with.

But he said Jonathan had warmed up to their relationship over the past couple of years, adding, “We were kind of discovering the fact that I’m not in the position to judge. I’m not the one to keep score. He was giving me the space to show him that.”

Several months ago Jonathan began regularly attending the Sunday family dinners Finch held at his house to knit his family more tightly together. It was during that period that Finch thinks they were reaching a greater understanding of one another.

“(I told him) I can’t hold him to a standard. I was steadfast. ‘It’s okay, Jonathan. I’m not your judge.’ I strove to reach in to, quite frankly, do the job I didn’t do when he was younger.”

In turn, Jonathan opened up about his goal to be a good dad to his two-year-old son, who lives in Michigan.

“We were just getting to the point of getting into the deeper conversations” when his son was killed, Finch said.

As for Gilbert, “I didn’t afford myself any feelings concerning him,” he said. “He doesn’t warrant my feelings. I was concerned for my son.”

Finch said he has depended on the faith and prayer of his and wife Gail’s church family to move forward.

“That’s really how we’ve gotten this far,” he said. “One day, one breath at a time.”

Family remembers murder victim

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.