Rachel Keesee and her fiance were just kids when they met.
It was 2002, and Keesee’s older brother was throwing a backyard party when she spotted Bryan Proenza.
“As soon as I saw Bryan, I knew,” said Keesee, now 30.
They didn’t get together for years, and then suddenly the timing was right.
“Something kept drawing us together,” Keesee said. “No matter if it was friendship or an eventual relationship. We were meant to be together. That’s what we always told each other.”
After seven years together and five kids, Keesee and Proenza had picked out rings and planned to get married this month.
All of Keesee’s plans changed on Jan. 16, when she says Proenza was shot in front of her and two of their children during a road rage incident in Riverview.
It was about 2:45 p.m. when Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies responded to the corner of Rose Lane and Baytree Drive in Riverview, where they found Proenza, 34, with multiple gunshot wounds.
The details about what led to the shooting are murky, but an arrest affidavit for Jorge Ramirez, 21, tells some of the story.
According to the affidavit, a passenger in the car with Ramirez told deputies that he began driving aggressively after he believed another driver, whom detectives identified as Proenza, was trying to block the entrance to the Kids Cove Learning Academy, which Ramirez was trying to drive through to avoid a traffic light.
Proenza, driving a Chevrolet SUV, had Keesee and two of their sons in his car. He was on Rhodine Road, preparing to turn north onto Balm Riverview Road, when Ramirez pulled up behind them aggressively in a BMW, the affidavit states.
The affidavit said Ramirez continued to follow Proenza aggressively when he turned north onto Balm Riverview Road and then east onto Rose Lane, where Ramirez struck the car’s back tow hitch with his front bumper. Ramirez struck the back tow hitch two more times before Proenza pulled over and got out to check for damage, Keesee said.
Keesee said Ramirez pulled over in front of them, got out of his car and approached Proenza.
Keesee said Proenza asked Ramirez why he kept hitting their SUV, and she yelled through the window to tell him that they had children in the back seat.
The argument escalated, she said, and then she heard gunshots.
“I just felt so helpless,” she said. “He (Bryan) protected my life and I feel worthless because I couldn’t protect him the way he protected me.”
Want breaking news in your inbox?
Subscribe to our free News Alerts newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Proenza died on his way to the hospital. Instead of a wedding, Keesee and her family are planning a funeral.
“You never think it’s going to hit your home. You always hear about road rage and I always feel so heartbroken for the people that it happened to,” she said. “And then it hit my home, and it was a whole different thing. This can happen to anyone.”
Shortly after the incident, deputies found Ramirez outside his home down the street, the arrest affidavit states.
Ramirez was arrested that day on three charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He was released three days later on $22,500 bail, court records show.
He has not been charged in Proenza’s death. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez said her office is reviewing the evidence before bringing additional charges.
“We know the pain this family is going through right now. We are being sensitive to that while methodically reviewing every fact of this case before making a charging decision,” Lopez said in an email. “We review everything from scientific and physical evidence, surveillance videos, witness statements, and potential self-defense claims to ensure that we have come to the correct legal conclusion.”
Since Ramirez’s release, the Proenza family hasn’t gone anywhere, Sylvia Proenza, Bryan’s mother, shared. The thought of seeing the person who shot Bryan is nerve-wracking for the family, she said.
“He only lives 2 miles from where we live,” Sylvia Proenza said. “We’re trying to stay home and let this unthinkable thing that happened to us set in.”
Court records show Ramirez has hired Whitney Duteau to represent him in the aggravated battery case. She has entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. Duteau declined to comment to the Times.
On Jan. 27, Proenza’s family held a celebration of life for him, where Keesee and their children released doves in his memory. Keesee said more than 200 people attended.
“He was so loved,” Keesee said. “He was a friend to anybody. He would walk up to a stranger and say, ‘Hey, you need help?’”
The following day, Bryan’s family held a car wash in Riverview to raise money for his funeral expenses. They raised $700, Keesee said.
Proenza’s family has a GoFundMe for help with his funeral expenses, along with financial support for Keesee and their children.
Sylvia Proenza, a teacher, remembers the day she got the call from Keesee that her son was shot.
“I just left school and raced in his direction,” she said. “Someone destroyed our lives and destroyed their own lives over senseless violence.”
Laura Proenza, Bryan’s sister, says her family is still trying to come to terms with his absence. “He was the first man I ever trusted. A part of me left with him,” she said.
“For some reason, I thought it was an accident,” she said. ”You know, that it wasn’t on purpose. To find out that there was more ill intent behind it made me angry because my brother would never do anything to provoke that.”
In his family, Proenza was a loving father to his children.
“He was protective when he needed to be, but otherwise he’d just let you grow tough skin,” she said. “But he was always there to listen to you. He was always the calm before the storm.”
Keesee is still processing that she won’t see Proenza again. Like many others in Proenza’s life, she feels like he’ll just come back one day and say the whole thing was a joke and that he survived.
“I’ll always remember his big old smile,” Keesee said. “And that no matter what life throws at us, he’s still here with me. And eventually we’ll get through this.”
Detectives seek information
Authorities are still investigating what led to the shooting on Jan. 16. Anyone with information is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200.