FIRST ON FOX: The ex-wife of a Microsoft executive mysteriously shot dead in front of his 2-year-old daughter in north Florida has hired a criminal defense lawyer — as new details have emerged about the pair’s acrimonious split, Fox News Digital has learned.
Jared Bridegan, 33, was gunned down February 16 after dropping off his twins at the home of his ex-wife Shanna Gardner-Fernandez in a tony suburb of Jacksonville Beach in north Florida.
He had just taken the twins and his daughter Bexley, who he shares with his second wife Kirsten Bridegan, out for dinner.
Bexley was strapped in her car seat, and they were driving home to St. Augustine when he came upon a tire in the road and stopped, according to police.
As he stepped out of his black Volkswagen Atlas, an unknown assailant shot Bridegan in front of the terrified child and fled.
Bexley remained in the car for three full minutes near her father’s lifeless body before a passerby stumbled on the gruesome scene and pulled her from the car, police said.
Kirsten Bridegan, 30, was at home with the couple’s 7-month-old daughter, London.
The shocking murder remains unsolved, and the Jacksonville Beach Police Department has not publicly named a suspect.
But Gardner-Fernandez and her husband, Mario Fernandez, are now represented by high-powered criminal defense attorney Henry Coxe III.
Coxe, the former president of the Florida Bar, "specializes in serious federal and state criminal matters," according to his bio on the Bedell Firm website. Under the heading "Area of Practice," the bio lists only "criminal defense."
Coxe told Fox News Digital that he was retained by the couple "for the purpose of seeing if steps could be taken to protect her young twins from any publicity surrounding this tragic event." He continued, "As for any other reason for the family to have or need counsel, whether it be myself or anyone else, there is none."
The brutal slaying has brought Bridegan’s relationship with his ex-wife into sharp relief, as detectives search for clues.
Jared and Shanna's Courtship
The couple met around 2009 after they were introduced while she was visiting a close friend in Jacksonville. Gardner-Fernandez grew up in a Mormon community in upscale Alpine, Utah — the daughter of Sterling and Shelli Gardner, who co-founded Stampin’ Up!, which sells paper craft products.
The family company, headquartered in Salt Lake City, has an estimated annual revenue of over $100 million a year, according to IncFact.
At first, Bridegan wasn’t interested, but Gardner-Fernandez "wined and dined him," flaunting her charmed life, a friend said.
"It was like she was saying, ‘Look what my lifestyle is like, I can fly you all over, my parents pay for everything," according to the friend.
Bridegan warmed up to Gardner-Fernandez, and they fell in love. He moved to Utah and the couple tied the knot in a 2010 fairytale wedding at the majestic Salt Lake City Temple.
They bought an $800,000 house in Highland, Utah, near her parents, and each drove a Mercedes — but neither of them had a job, the friend said.
The parents provided the newlyweds a monthly stipend of more than $8,500 in addition to access to credit cards and other substantial financial perks — including giving Bridegan $100,000 to start a business, according to court filings and sources.
Cracks in the Marriage
Gardner-Fernandez became pregnant with twins: a boy and a girl. But their son was born with a serious congenital heart condition, pulmonary hypertension. Doctors told the couple the child needed to live at sea level for his heart to function properly.
They moved to Connecticut, where Bridegan’s brother and wife were living at the time, which was also close to their son’s doctor in New York.
"That’s when the cracks really started to show," said the friend. Gardner-Fernandez stopped going to church and started zealously working out. She grew frustrated with her husband, who had gained weight and was focused on trying to start businesses, the friend said.
In search of a fresh start, Bridegan, who was originally from Jacksonville, persuaded Gardner-Fernandez to move to his hometown. He was studying online for a master’s degree at Savannah College of Art and Design.
They bought another $800,000 house in ritzy Ponte Vedra Beach south of Jacksonville — but the move didn’t save their marriage. Bridegan remained a devout LDS member, while Gardner-Fernandez began straying from her faith, sources said.
She had joined CrossFit, and Bridegan bought her a set of personal training sessions as a gift. She allegedly began an affair with the personal trainer, and Bridegan found compromising emails between them, sources told Fox News Digital. He confronted her, and she told him she didn’t love him anymore, according to the sources.
"It was like having someone you knew and loved do a complete 180," said the friend. "Jared was like, ‘I don’t recognize this person. I married a totally different person.’"
But he was still willing to fight for their marriage for the sake of their kids — a proposition she rejected, a source said.
Gardner-Fernandez filed for divorce from Bridegan Feb. 23, 2015, after about five years of marriage, calling the union "irretrievably broken" and telling the court, simply, "We don’t love each other anymore."
Despite the festering animosity, both spouses remained in the marital residence, as they viciously squared off in divorce court.
Gardner-Fernandez demanded exclusive occupancy of the home, primary custody, and accused Bridegan of threatening to withdraw cash from their children’s trust funds for his own use.
Bridegan countered that he deserved primary custody, alimony, child support, and exclusive use of their home as she had the means to live elsewhere.
He accused her of surreptitiously spying on him by hiding baby monitors in the children’s bedroom and attaching a tracking device to his car.
In an email to his lawyer obtained by Fox News Digital, Bridegan attached a photo of one monitor hidden under his daughter’s dresser and another under his son’s bed. The rooms already had baby monitors in plain sight, and both parents had access to them, he wrote.
"This is enough!!! I should have every damn right on my own property to not constantly be under recording or monitoring by Shanna," he wrote in the email May 17, 2015. "I want the flipping gates of Hell released on her for this."
She also installed a lock on the master bedroom to which he was not given a key and allegedly placed a voice-activated recorder in the house, he wrote.
Bridegan accused her of "totally lying on her financials" claiming she had no income when she had allegedly earned thousands of dollars doing work under the table for her mom’s business, according to the email.
The spurned spouse appeared most upset by Gardner-Fernandez unilaterally canceling their then 3-year-old son’s June 2015 heart surgery in New York after they had waited months for the appointment.
Although the couple hammered out a divorce and shared parenting agreement in July 2015 that gave them equal custody, they continued to drag each other back into court for six years.
Bridegan married Kirsten Bridegan in 2017, and the two were building a blended family. But he and Gardner-Fernandez, who married Mario Fernandez in 2018, continued to spar constantly over every issue that cropped up with their twins, from where they would attend school to modifications of their custody and child support agreements.
"It was difficult to watch Jared go through constant court battles when all he wanted was to focus on being the best husband and father he could be," Kirsten Bridegan said.
"The parties struggle to resolve issues between themselves and tend to turn to the court for resolution," wrote Gardner-Fernandez’s lawyer, requesting that the court appoint a parent coordinator to mediate their disputes in 2020. "This has resulted in effectively a constant state of litigation." The attorney did not mention that the bulk of the court actions were initiated by Gardner-Fernandez.
As the years passed, Gardner-Fernandez’s filings grew more hostile and her accusations more extreme. In 2019, she claimed Bridegan had been coaching and "interrogating the minor children and recording their statements."
She alleged that he was "now threatening to use these coached recorded statements against the mother," calling the conduct "abusive" and "outrageous" and demanding a social investigation. The request was denied.
In June 2021, Gardner-Fernandez filed a fresh motion against her ex-husband for not letting her borrow a small breathing machine for their son, which was used when at high altitudes. She had possession of a larger machine that was less convenient for traveling.
"The father apparently considers his vindictiveness toward the mother more important than protecting his son’s health and life," her attorney wrote, accusing Bridegan of being "more concerned with humiliating the mother than he is in making sure his own child does not die."
Ultimately, the matter was settled with an order entered on the docket four months before Bridegan’s murder, stating that he would pay Gardner-Fernandez $571 and retain exclusive use of the smaller machine. The vitriolic litigation concluded with a final docket entry recording Bridegan’s death.
Police believe that the assailant may have placed a tire in the road to lure Bridegan from his car at about 7:30 p.m., then shot him.
There is no surveillance footage of the attack. Detectives have asked for the public’s help in identifying a vehicle of interest — a dark blue Ford F-150 with tan trim.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting the local police with resources — including their labs to process forensic evidence.
"Detectives are still actively working this investigation and will continue to do so until we have no further leads," said Sgt. Tonya Tator, of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.
Anyone with information should contact the Jacksonville Beach Police Department at 904-270-1661 or First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS. A GoFundMe.com account has been set up for the Bridegan family.
There is a $55,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. A majority of the cash came from a fundraiser launched by Jared's brother, Adam Bridegan, and a friend, Nate Checketts. When asked whether the Gardner family had donated, Adam Bridegan responded, "Not yet, but we would welcome their assistance."
Kirsten Bridegan has been at the forefront of trying to bring her husband’s killer to justice. She has spoken to countless national media outlets, begging the public to come forward with tips. The distraught widow has posted flyers across north Florida and organized a vigil to keep his memory alive.
"The fight doesn’t get easier. It gets harder as more time passes without answers. I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to stop fighting for Jared," she told Fox News Digital. "He deserves justice, the family deserves justice and the community deserves justice."
The twins did not attend their father’s March 3 funeral. Shelli Gardner, who closed on a $3.5 million vacation home in Jacksonville Beach about three weeks after the murder, claimed in a blog post that her daughter had been "uninvited."
"After Shanna (along with anyone who knew her) was uninvited from Jared’s funeral services, Shanna and the twins planned their own celebration of life," wrote Gardner March 21 on her blog "So Shelli" under the heading "Enormous Amounts of Love." The sentence has since been deleted.
The post includes professional photos of Gardner-Fernandez and her husband, Mario Fernandez, smiling with the twins and dozens of friends and family.
A large spread of Mexican food and baked treats are featured alongside snaps of grinning guests gathered in the backyard of the Gardner's new oceanfront property.
A series of critical comments blasted the event as a "PR stunt" and inappropriately joyful.
"I’ve never seen so many smiles at a celebration of life ceremony for someone who was murdered in cold blood. Never mind all the pictures of the food decorations," wrote Jay.
Gladys pointed out that Shelli Gardner’s claim was inaccurate and that Gardner-Fernandez was not invited but the children were.
In a reply, Gardner conceded that Kirsten Bridegan had offered to pick up the twins, take them to the funeral and drop them back off at her mother’s home afterwards — but claimed the kids didn’t want to attend without their mother, who was not invited.
"As everyone knows, there are multiple sides to every story, and I’ve chosen to not share our side, for the sake of everyone involved, especially our grandchildren," she wrote. The critical posts and Gardner’s response to them were later deleted.
Gardner and Gardner-Fernandez did not return requests for comment. Mario Fernandez referred all questions to his attorney Henry Coxe.