A musician preparing for a public performance with one of his students was not prepared for the phone call he received on March 3.
That’s the day hornist and band leader Harlan Jefferson received news that 14-year-old Christopher Ruckman would not be attending his school’s jazz concert for which Jefferson was a guest musician. The reason: the boy was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his Illinois home earlier that day.
Things got even darker for Jefferson when he learned Christopher’s brother, 12-year-old Jack, had also been shot dead and that police believed P.S. Ruckman, their father, was the killer.
Although some details are still pending, authorities believe P.S. Ruckman shot his sons before turning the gun on himself sometime between Feb. 27 and March 3.
“It blew me away,” Jefferson told The Rock River Times.
Jefferson became close to Christopher and Jack after P.S. Ruckman, a college professor, contacted him and asked if he’d help Chris hone his musical skills. Jefferson agreed and eventually formed a bond with both boys and the family.
Known as a guitar prodigy, Chris Ruckman soon became part of Jefferson’s regular roster of musicians, playing material most middle-school students don’t even listen to, let alone perform in clubs.
“Jack and Christopher were both amazing kids,” Jefferson said. “Jack always enjoyed watching the show and Christopher always enjoyed performing with me. He loved the blues and Jimi Hendrix. He was my student but, in reality, he was my little buddy.”
Jefferson attempted to contact P.S. Ruckman on March 2 to firm up logistics for Saturday’s show, a spring concert to raise money for Rockford Christian Schools, where Chris and Jack attended. However, the professor didn’t answer, something Jefferson said was unusual.
The last time Jefferson saw Chris Ruckman was at a Feb. 23 at a Rockford, Illinois club where the band performed. He said although Chris gave a memorable performance, what P.S. Ruckman told him after the show is something he’ll also never forget.
“The last thing he told me is that he loved me and ‘Thanks for working with Chris,'” Jefferson said. “Now that I think about it, I hope he wasn’t saying goodbye forever.”
Jefferson was aware of P.S. Rickman’s job as a college professor and that his ex-wife was an attorney at a noted firm. However, his relationship with the family was centered on Chris and Jack.
“I didn’t know anything about their major accomplishments,” Jefferson said. “All I knew is that they loved their kids, and I thought it was great how Mr. Ruckman would always bring him out to learn about music from me the same way my father did for me when I was a kid.”
What caused the 58-year-old to reportedly shoot his own sons may never be known. The only thing domestic related on record is a divorce filed by Heidi Ruckman that was finalized last year. By all accounts, the boys were adjusting to shared custody and were well liked by their peers. Music may have been an escape of sorts, although no one will ever know.
“You never know what people are going through,” Jefferson said.
Jack Ruckman was an up-and-coming baseball player and played drums in a band with Chris, an act they called The Vitamin Gang. Hundreds attended their visitation, the Rockford Register Star reported. The boys were laid to rest Friday during a private ceremony.
P.S. Ruckman was a political science professor at Rock Valley College for two decades and also taught at Northern Illinois University. He wrote two books about presidential pardons and often lent his voice on the subject to local, regional and national media. Ruckman was the son of Pensacola Bible Institute founder Peter Sturges Ruckman. His funeral arrangements are pending.