LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) — Two central Minnesota teenagers who were killed during an alleged break-in at a man’s home were cousins and high school athletes who were popular among their schoolmates, officials said.
Little Falls school officials identified the victims as cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nicholas Brady, 17. The shooter, 64-year-old Byron David Smith of Little Falls, was being held for second-degree murder and is likely to be charged Monday.
On Sunday night, fellow students and alumni from Little Falls High School held a candlelight vigil at the high school football field.
Kifer was a senior at Little Falls High School. Superintendent Stephen Jones said she competed in gymnastics and swimming and helped manage the boys wrestling team. Brady had attended the same school up through the previous school year, at which point he transferred to nearby Pillager High School.
Jones said the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department notified him of the identity of the victims. Little Falls students have a scheduled day off Monday, but Jones said grief counselors will be on hand anyway, and students and their parents will be invited to come to school and talk about what happened. He said more counselors will be in place on Tuesday when all students return; Pillager High School also planned to have counselors available.
Jones said Brady had wrestled for Little Falls before transferring schools. “These were both friends to a lot of folks, involved in lots of activities and working their way towards graduation like so many other kids, trying to put their focus on the future,” Jones said.
Family members of Kifer and Brady could not immediately be reached for comment.
Details about the shooting remained murky Sunday. Morrison County deputies visited Smith’s home just north of Little Falls on Friday afternoon on a suspicious activity call, at which point they say he immediately confessed to shooting two people the previous day around noon. Deputies found the bodies in the basement.
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said Sunday that Smith claimed the teenagers broke into his home. But Wetzel said circumstances at the scene led investigators, including some from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, to believe that his actions were in excess of simple self-defense.
Wetzel refused to release further details, including whether investigators believe that Smith shot the teenagers immediately upon finding them; and why he didn’t report the incident immediately. Wetzel planned to hold a press conference on Monday in Little Falls, where he said he would release a fuller picture of what happened.
“We do want to give the public a clear picture of what happened,” Wetzel said. He said investigators were still actively working the case.
Few details were immediately available about Smith, whose home is in a secluded area north of Little Falls and near the Mississippi River. Wetzel said he was not previously known to the sheriff’s department as a troublemaker, and his name doesn’t turn up any previous convictions in a state criminal history database. The Star Tribune quoted a neighbor, John Lange, who said Smith was a retired security worker and volunteer Scout leader who cared for his elderly mother until her recent death.
“He’s a really decent guy. I think he just snapped,” Lange told the newspaper.
A Facebook page set up to mourn Kifer and Brady was getting heavy traffic on Sunday afternoon.
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