When Eric Newman woke up on the morning of July 26, he couldn’t have imagined the tragedy that awaited him. Instead, he was probably thinking about what he loved best: spending time outdoors with his kids. He had a fishing trip planned with his family on Lake Koocanusa in northwestern Montana, and the 40-year-old Oregon man was likely wondering about the best ways to get his kids hooked on some trout.
“As a father, he wanted to bring his kids with them everywhere he could. And it’s not easy to do, to pack up your rig and bring all three kids with you wherever you go,” Michael O’Casey, one of Newman’s best friends, told MeatEater.
But after spending a day on the water with his family, Newman got caught up in an incident officials are still trying to piece together. He was attempting to take his rented boat out of the water when he got into a “verbal dispute” with 51-year-old Christopher Foster, according to the Lincoln County, Montana, Sheriff’s Office.
Boat ramp disputes are nothing new, but most don’t end in homicide. Newman got back into his vehicle to back down the boat ramp when Foster pulled a handgun and shot Newman, killing him. Newman’s wife, his two other kids, his sister-in-law, and her two kids were all on the ramp to witness the murder.
Foster went back to his car and was found later that day with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The sheriff’s office characterized the incident as a “homicide” and “apparent suicide.”
It’s still unclear what exactly motivated Foster’s violence, but one thing is certain: his actions left a wife without a husband, three kids without a father, and the Oregon hunting and conservation community without one of their most beloved members.
Newman grew up in Indiana hunting whitetail with his dad. He and his wife, Holly, moved to Bend, Oregon, about 10 years ago, where they lived with their three kids. Newman was passionate about all things outdoors, particularly hunting, O’Casey said. His greatest passion was archery elk hunting, but he also pursued bear, deer, and waterfowl (even though, according to Casey, the waterfowl scene in central Oregon isn’t the best).
“He was an exceptional guy. He loved hunting all things,” O’Casey said. He went on a spring bear hunt earlier this year to celebrate his 40th birthday, and O'Casey recalls how much he enjoyed being in Hell’s Canyon.
“He was in awe of the mountain country, the greenery, he loved every second of it. It’s fun to go hunting and share life with people who have that kind of joy,” O’Casey said.
He was also an active member of the Oregon Hunters Association (OHA), and he could frequently be found at the organization’s public land cleanup days, kids in tow.
“He loved to teach his kids about the things he was passionate about. Also from the ethical and fatherly side of things. That’s why they would always go to these volunteer events. He would host trash pickups just for whoever wanted to come on public lands,” O’Casey said.
When MeatEater contacted the OHA about Newman, multiple of the organization’s leaders called us to tell us how much they liked and respected him.
“Simply put, Eric Newman was one of the most valuable OHA members our organization will ever have. He was exceptionally dedicated to the OHA mission which is to protect Oregon’s wildlife, habitat, and our hunting heritage,” said OHA Conservation Coordinator Tyler Dungannon.
OHA Field Director Bryan Cook recalled the first time he met Newman at a volunteer event. Newman offered to let Cook camp next to him and his son at the packed campsite even though the two had never interacted.
“If you had asked me weeks ago to pick out a person to exemplify or show off from OHA membership, someone who’s well-spoken and does things the right way, I would pick Eric. He was that guy,” Bryan said.
Eric Brown, the Project Coordinator for the Bend OHA chapter, said Newman was “always smiling and so very easy to get along with.”
“Our world has lost a truly good person who will be greatly missed,” Brown said.
Most of the photos on Newman’s Ever Loved page depict him with his family in the outdoors. There’s a reason. Everyone we spoke with emphasized how much Newman enjoyed bringing his family on his outdoor pursuits.
“A lot of guys I meet, they love their families, but when it’s hunting season, the kids don’t go. They’re at home. But with him, no, they were involved,” Cook said. “If the wife was working and the weather was nice, he’d pack the kids in, cast the line for an hour or two, and pack out.”
Lincoln County Sheriff Darren Short told MeatEater that the altercation began when Foster became impatient that Newman was having trouble backing his trailer down to the water. Foster was trying to launch his own boat, which he eventually did alongside Newman on the large boat ramp at Rexford Bench Campground.
But when Foster returned to park his truck, he continued his verbal dispute with Newman. Short says they continued to exchange words until Newman said something, and Foster pulled out his gun.
Short says he doesn't know exactly what was said, but whatever happened, O’Casey and Cook are adamant that Newman wasn’t the instigator.
“I can’t imagine Eric initiated any of the controversy that ensued,” O’Casey said. “He wasn’t a hothead. He was with his son. Whatever the argument was, I’m sure Eric handled it with grace. It was a freak accident that should have never happened.”
Cook agrees. “Eric’s the guy who if you had a disagreement he would probably be more biblical, a church-going guy. He would kill you with kindness,” Cook said.
Short says Foster wasn't previously known to the department and isn't sure why he reacted so violently. Foster was on some kind of medication, and Short is waiting for toxicology reports to come back.
Holly Newman asked that the public be sensitive to their loss and focus on Newman’s life rather than the details of the incident.
“My sister and I and all six of our combined children witnessed Eric's murder and will forever be changed by it,” she said on Newman’s Ever Loved page. “If you see us in person, please be sensitive to this and focus on celebrating Eric, not on the events we have experienced.”
Newman’s friends make him sound like Dad of the Year, but they’re not just blowing smoke. In 2020, Newman published an article in the OHA’s magazine, “Oregon Hunter,” in which he tells the story of his first archery bull elk that he bagged with his son, Elliott, in tow.
Elliott was only three years old at the time, so Newman and his hunting buddy, Dan Johnson, had to think carefully about how to make the experience a positive one while also giving themselves a chance at an elk. Newman showed Elliott videos of elk hunting to help him understand the strategy and goal. They slept in the first morning, had a big breakfast, and avoided hiking into areas that would be too steep for the toddler.
Newman miraculously managed to arrow a 5x6 bull while Dan called and hung back with Elliott. That’s when the real challenge began.
“Now we had a 700-pound elk in front of us that we needed to get quartered out, we had a three-year-old approaching lunchtime and nap time and we were four hours from Bend. Don’t panic, Dad!” Newman wrote.
They made a nest on the ground for Elliott using some extra clothes, which gave him a place to rest, eat his snacks, and listen to audiobooks (“Cat in the Hat,” in case you’re wondering). They got the elk quartered out, and Newman carried Elliott on his shoulders while carrying a front shoulder of elk back to the truck.
“It was an amazing day. Not only did Dan and I get our first elk – a feat four years in the making – but the best thing is that my son was with us to experience the entire adventure on his first hunt,” Newman recalls.
O’Casey says this was one of Newman’s “proudest moments.” “More than anything, he wanted to get his kids out, to create a life in the wild for his kids,” O’Casey said. “That’s all he wanted to do, to convey that to his kids by living with them.”
Newman’s friends set up a fundraiser to help Holly and the kids with funeral expenses and other needs, such as mental health care for Holly’s sister and her kids. As of this writing, the fund has generated over $42,000. Donations can be made here.