NEW TOWN, N.D. (AP) — Authorities on Monday were investigating the shooting deaths of a woman and her three grandchildren on an American Indian reservation in northwestern North Dakota and the suicide hours later of a man described as a person of interest in the killings.
Martha Johnson, 64, and three of her grandchildren — Benjamin Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10 and Luke Schuster, 6 — were gunned down in her New Town home Sunday afternoon while Johnson’s husband was out hunting, Mountrail County Sheriff Ken Halvorson said. The children’s 12-year-old brother, who was also in the home but wasn’t hurt, called 911, he said.
Hours later in Parshall, a community about 20 miles from New Town that is also on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, a New Town man in his 20s killed himself with a knife, Halvorson said. He described the man as a person of interest in the earlier slayings, but neither he nor the FBI had released the man’s name.
“It happened in front of a deputy and a highway patrolman,” Halvorson said of the suicide.
The FBI is leading the investigation because the federal government has jurisdiction over crimes in Indian Country. FBI spokesman Kyle Loven declined to release details, citing the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Jordheim referred calls to the FBI, and the state attorney general’s office deferred to federal authorities.
Both Halvorson and the FBI said they don’t believe there is any danger to the public.
On Monday, there was a teddy bear with a heart painted on it stuffed in the white picket fence that surrounds the Johnsons’ ranch-style home, which sits on a corner lot in a quiet residential neighborhood in New Town.
Classes were cancelled at the local school because of the shootings, which Three Affiliated Tribes spokesman Waylon Pretends Eagle said were “a community tragedy.” A community prayer vigil was scheduled Monday night.
Neither Johnson nor her grandchildren were enrolled tribal members, but the man who killed himself was, Halvorson said.
Murders are relatively rare in North Dakota, which is home to fewer than 700,000 people. FBI statistics show 24 murders and non-negligent manslaughters in the state last year.
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