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Little Falls mourns shooting victims

Went missing on Thanksgiving Day and bodies found in basement

Gulf News

LITTLE FALLS, Minnesota: A Little Falls man faces arraignment on Monday in the shooting deaths of a pair of teenage cousins who went missing on Thanksgiving Day and whose bodies were found by police the next day in the basement of the man’s central Minnesota home.

Little Falls school officials identified the victims as cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nicholas Brady, 17.

Police on Sunday were holding Byron David Smith, 64, of Little Falls, who they expected will be charged on Monday with second-degree murder.

Smith told police he shot the two during a break-in, but authorities have said his actions exceeded a reasonable self-defence.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that about 200 people gathered on Sunday night for a vigil at Little Falls High School for Kifer and Brady. Mourners remembered both as athletic and friendly.

The newspaper also interviewed Bruce Smith, the suspect’s brother, who said several break-ins had left his brother feeling vulnerable and afraid.

Family members of Kifer and Brady could not immediately be reached for comment.

Details about the shooting remained murky on Sunday. Morrison County deputies visited Byron David 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.

Smith’s brother told the Star-Tribune on Sunday that his brother was upset after the shootings and unsure how to react.

“Put yourself in his shoes after you shoot two people in your basement,” Bruce Smith said. “How are you going to react?”

Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said on Sunday that Byron David 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-defence.

Wetzel refused to release further details, including whether investigators believe that Smith shot the teenagers immediately upon finding them. Wetzel planned to hold a news 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.

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 on Monday, but Jones said grief counsellors 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 counsellors will be in place on Tuesday when all students return. Pillager High School also planned to have counsellors available.