MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A family that came to America in pursuit of a better life is now left planning a funeral after a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee was shot and killed in downtown Memphis.

Friend and former employer Dr. Sandra Ryeom recalls the moments she learned 32-year-old Alexander Bulakhov was gunned down while walking with his wife Anastasiia and their 2-year-old daughter on Tennessee Street Sunday night.

Alexander and Anastasiia Bulakhov with their 2-year-old daughter (Photo courtesy: Sandra Ryeom)

“I was driving when Anastasiia called me Monday morning, and I just, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Ryeom said. “I thought I misunderstood her. And then when she finally explained what happened, I burst into tears. I just was sobbing on the side of the road.”

According to court documents released Tuesday, 24-year-old Marious Ward came up to the family, pointed a gun, and demanded they hand over their belongings, which Bulakhov did. 

Ward then turned to Anastasiia.

“Anastasiia said the guy was pointing the gun at her stomach so Alexander was trying to protect her and said something like don’t point the gun at my wife,” Ryeom said. “She really wanted people to know that he died trying to protect her and Barbara.”

Dr. Ryeom describes the family as wonderful, sweet, and kind. She worked with Anastasiia for years at her cancer lab at Columbia University in New York and says the Bulakhovs just moved to Memphis over the summer. 

Alexander and Anastasiia Bulakhov with their 2-year-old daughter (Photo courtesy: Sandra Ryeom)

“They were so excited to be there, and they found this great apartment, and Alex loved his new lab, and Anastasiia had been looking for jobs and finally found one, which was supposed to start in December at St. Jude, as well. I was so excited for them,” she said.

But that plan is far from what they had hoped as Anastasiia works instead to plan a funeral thousands of miles away from her family in Russia. 

“Alex’s dream was for them to stay and have careers here and raise their daughter here,” Ryeom said. “And if they have to go back to Russia, I think his death really would have been in vain.”

Ward and 22-year-old Brandy Rucker are facing a number of charges in connection with Bulakhov’s death.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ryeom has set up a GoFundMe to help the family get back on their feet and pay funeral expenses. If you would like to donate, click here.