DIAMOND BAR, Calif.–A brand-new real estate licensee who ended a decade-long stint in the military last month out of fear he might make a widow out of his wife and four children remained in critical condition late Tuesday, after being shot in the back while prospecting for listings near his own home in suburban Los Angeles.

The shooting of Eric Russell Hinks, 29, has left his family and friends struggling for answers.

But it also served as a reminder that there are some perils virtually all real estate salespeople will always face, no matter how many safety precautions they may take or how well they might prepare for danger.

“Mr. Hinks just knocked on the ‘wrong’ door,” said L.A. County Sheriff’s Det. Laura French, who is handling the shooting. “There was no way he could have foreseen or prevent what would happen next.”

Hinks served two decorated, four-year stints in the Army before retiring from active duty and joining the National Guard about two years ago, his wife, Bobbie, told Inman News in an exclusive interview.

He was looking forward to deploying to Iraq earlier this year, she said, but then had second thoughts after Bobbie gave birth to premature twins and one of the infants was forced to stay in the hospital several weeks.

“We already had two children and then we had the twins, and Eric got worried about what might happen to us if he went overseas and got killed,” Bobbie Hinks said.

It was a chance that Eric Hinks didn’t want to take. So, about the same time he began the paper work needed to leave the National Guard, he also began studying for his California real estate salesperson’s license.

He received his honorable discharge on Oct. 17, and received notice a few days later that he had passed his real estate exam on his first try. Elated, he immediately began working for a local brokerage and vowed to close his first sale by this Christmas.

Last week, on his way back home from dropping off a holiday wreath that Bobbie had made for Eric’s aunt and uncle, the rookie agent noticed a house that was in disrepair in the otherwise well-kept neighborhood and thought its owner might want to sell.

According to Sheriff’s Det. French, Hinks parked his truck and walked up to the home’s front door–not knowing that its current occupant apparently was using the house to grow marijuana.

The property “just looked unkept,” French said. “There was nothing to suggest that something unlawful was going on.”

Nor was there anything Hinks could have done to prepare for what would happen next.

When no one answered his knocks, Hinks left one of his newly printed business cards on the door and turned around to leave.

After taking a few steps, Det. French and witnesses say, a shotgun blast rang out and Hinks collapsed in a bloody heap.

He was rushed to a local hospital with nine shotgun shell fragments in his back, badly damaged intestines, a shattered pelvis and a collapsed lung.

Sheriff’s deputies soon arrested 27-year-old James Howard Heesch, the home’s occupant, on drug charges after finding four pounds of marijuana growing at the house.

His brother, 29-year-old John Steven Heesch, was charged with the shooting. Detectives say that John Heesch was a few doors down when he saw Hinks approach his brother’s home, then proceeded to grab a shotgun and shoot Hinks in the back without saying a word as the agent walked back toward his truck.

John Heesch was “apparently afraid that Mr. Hinks was there to steal the marijuana,” Det. French said.

Though Eric Hinks remained in critical condition Tuesday, his doctors are optimistic that he’ll survive as long as unforeseen complications don’t arise. “With luck and God’s help,” Bobbie Hinks says, “Eric could be out of the hospital by Thanksgiving.”

Bobbie says it’s “a blessing” that the couple’s 5-month-old twins are too young to understand the tragedy that has struck the Hinks family.

But it’s not so easy on 5-year-old Breanna and 3-year-old Hunter, both of whom keep clamoring for their father.

Meantime, Bobbie Hinks and the couple’s friends and relatives are left wondering why it all happened in the first place.

“Eric spent 10 years in the military, gets out, then gets shot a few miles from his own family,” Bobbie Hinks says.

“I keep asking myself ‘Why Eric? Why us?'” Bobbie says. “But there’s just no easy answer.”

***

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