NEW TOWN - Area residents gathered here Monday evening to mourn the shooting deaths of four of its residents while law enforcement officials continue to piece together details of the crime.
Martha Johnson, 64, and three of her grandchildren, Ben Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10, and Luke Schuster, 6, were shot to death at Johnson's home in New Town Sunday, according to Mountrail Sheriff Ken Halvorson.
Police responded to a 9-1-1 call to the dispatch center in Stanley soon after 3 p.m. from a juvenile male, who was the lone survivor in the house. The 12-year-old boy, also a grandchild of Johnson's, stated that the perpetrator was "a dark-complected adult male," according to the release. A New Town man, whose name has not been released, committed suicide hours later while being questioned by investigators in the nearby reservation town of Parshall.
Flint McColgan/MDN • A teddy bear has been placed in the white picket fence that surrounds Martha Johnson’s home on Sixth Street North in New Town where a quadruple homicide took place Sunday.
All five bodies have been transported to Bismarck for autopsies.
The connection of the man's death in Parshall to the four shooting deaths in New Town was not confirmed nor denied Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which assumed jurisdiction over the crime Sunday evening.
"The case is barely 24 hours old," said FBI spokesperson Kyle Loven of the Minneapolis, Minn., field office Monday afternoon. The investigators are still in the early stages of assembling the case.
Johnson and the children were not enrolled members of the Three Affiliated Tribes. The man who committed suicide in Parshall was an enrolled tribal member, law enforcement officials said.
While law enforcement gathers evidence in the case, residents of New Town and the surrounding Three Affiliated Tribes territory of the Berthold Indian Reservation came together Monday evening to mourn the victims and come to terms with the reality of the situation.
"Our world, our lives, have been changed," said Mark Fox, a director of the Three Affiliated Tribes, while speaking with members of local law enforcement before the "Call to Action & Prayer Service" held in the Northern Lights Community Building Monday evening. "We can't undo what happened. We can only change what will happen."
Fox's concerns were numerous.
"Violence has been growing," he said. "Out of the context of this particular incident things have gotten worse," including drug problems and gang activity. "We have the typical increases as the rest of the nation," but it has all "greatly escalated since the oil boom."
New Town is a small but growing town among the seemingly endless fields of oil pumps and man-camps that sprang up only recently when the oil boom hit the area, including the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
The house on Sixth Street North where the killings took place is a pleasant home with a white picket fence now adorned with a small teddy bear, presumably in memory of the children who died there Sunday.
Residents turned out in huge numbers to Monday evening's event that was originally planned as a community Thanksgiving dinner but was turned into a service to mourn and cope with the deaths. Local and state clergy and counselors offered prayers and presentations on coping with changes.
"Basically - I've talked with 30 people already - people want a chance to process their grief and their fear," said Bob Edwards, a clinical psychologist and director of Minot's Upper Living Ministries, who had come to New Town to help people with that grief and fear.
"They want to know why, but there is no why, just what," said Edwards. "That's the synthesis of tonight's meeting, to know how to get peace and safety back into their lives."
Edwards and other religious figures offered prayers throughout the evening, as the assembled crowd ate Thanksgiving dinner together.
Some community members, such as Glenda Baker Embry, who is the Public Information Officer for the Three Affiliated Tribes, remembered more peaceful times in New Town.
"I remember when you could walk into the grocery store and you would know everyone," said Embry, "a time when you didn't even think about locking your car, you know?"
"We know there have been changes," she said. "Drugs are here and our young people are so impressionable and trying all these things."
Although no links to drugs or gangs have been confirmed by law enforcement regarding the case, concerns for the changes and for New Town's youth were palpable.
"I made the call about 9 o'clock last night, and it was the right call," said Marc Bluestone, superintendent of New Town District Schools, of his decision to close the school for the day Monday. "We did not have a definitive answer for the threat level in the community."
"We feel we have a good contingency plan for tomorrow, though, to help people" with the grief, Bluestone said Monday.
There will be additional counselors and clergy available in the schools today to assist students and staff cope with the deaths of the three students.
"In places like Los Angeles or New York this wouldn't seem" too out of the ordinary, Bluestone said. "For our little town here it's pretty scary."