Native American cultural resources complicate Williston truck bypass

Williston Public Works Director Monte Meiers, left, and Williams County Commission Chairman Dan Kalil tour one of the proposed routes for a truck bypass around Williston. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – Native American burial grounds and a significant concentration of cultural resources are complicating a truck bypass route around Williston.

Williston city and Williams County leaders agreed on a preferred route to build a permanent truck bypass, but Wednesday night they learned that North Dakota’s Native American tribes strongly oppose it.

Francis Ziegler, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, said during a public meeting in Williston he hoped the department could find a way to construct the bypass that local officials preferred without disturbing the cultural resources.

However, DOT officials learned after meeting with tribal leaders that the proposed truck bypass would disturb a large cemetery area, ceremonial objects, landmarks and other artifacts.

“It’s going to be very difficult if not impossible,” Ziegler said of building the truck route that local leaders chose.

Grant Levi, who will be interim director of the DOT after Ziegler retires this week, said this area is the most concentrated area of Native American artifacts that he’s seen. Tribal leaders have indicated they may sue if the bypass is constructed there, Levi said.

“They are frustrated, they’re concerned about what’s occurring and they’re discussing what options they can take from a legal perspective to protect them,” Levi said.

Charles Murphy, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has provided the DOT with a resolution about the importance of the cultural resources that states opposition to disturbing them. Leaders of other tribes plan to do the same, Ziegler said.

“The department has never seen tribes as united about an issue as they are about this,” Ziegler said. “It’s pretty obvious that it’s an issue that’s of grave concern to them.”

But an alternative route will destroy more land and affect more property owners, said Dan Kalil, chairman of the Williams County Commission.

“That’s just heartbreaking to me to destroy all of this habitat,” Kalil said Wednesday while driving the terrain where the alternate route would be. “How much of western North Dakota do we need to destroy?”

The route city and county leaders preferred, which has been coined the yellow route, is 11.4 miles long and has about 3 miles without an existing road bed, said Williston Public Works Director Monte Meiers.

One homeowner would be affected with the yellow route, Kalil said.

An alternate route, called the red route, is 13 miles and has 8.5 miles without a road bed, Meiers said.

That route would affect more property owners, including some who are strongly opposed to the route, Kalil said. The red route also is less direct, so some truck drivers may choose not to use it, Kalil said.

“Everybody is going to take the most direct route,” Kalil said.

Bob Gannaway, one of the landowners who would be affected by the red route, said he sees a need for a truck bypass even if it would go by his farm.

“It’s going to be in somebody’s backyard, whether it’s mine or somebody else’s,” Gannaway said.

One landowner who didn’t want his name in the newspaper got emotional as he told DOT officials what his farmland has meant to his family.

“That devastates me, splitting up 1,300 acres like that,” he said.

A third alternative, called the blue route, is even longer and doesn’t seem to have much support from leaders.

A temporary bypass opened in August that truckers are currently using is 16 miles long. That bypass is designed to last for two to three years and the goal is to have a permanent route constructed in that timeframe, Levi said.

The bypass diverts truck traffic, which has seen tremendous growth with the oil boom, from the primary route through the city.

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said the odds of their preferred route being approved seem to be slim to none, with slim taking several years. Koeser said leaders will likely focus now on making the alternative route the best it can be.

Ziegler said the DOT is collecting input, but ultimately the route will be the department’s decision.

“Those are tough calls,” Ziegler said. “We really don’t want to go through burial grounds.”

Kalil said leaders should take their time choosing the location of the bypass because it will have lasting impacts for the community.

“This is one of the most important decisions our city and county are going to make in our terms of office,” Kalil said.

Oil industry, wildlife groups develop best practices

BISMARCK – North Dakota oil and gas producers have new guidelines to help them minimize impacts to wildlife and habitat.

Industry representatives and wildlife and conservation groups announced Tuesday best practices such as consolidating facilities away from sensitive areas and establishing common routes for multiple pipelines.

Even though the best practices are voluntary, the director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said the feedback he’s received is that most companies will implement them.

“I think it’s going to be tremendous,” said Terry Steinwand. “They’re already doing a lot of these things.”

The Sporting and Oil Industry Forum, a group of industry officials and conservation and wildlife groups, has met three times to develop the guidelines.

A fourth meeting is scheduled for next week, and the group plans to continue meeting quarterly, said Terry Fleck, chairman for the North Dakota Energy Forum who’s been facilitating the meetings.

“What’s unique about this group is that they may be industry people, but they love the outdoors as much as we do,” Fleck said.

The group also is using geographic information systems (GIS) maps to educate industry officials about sensitive habitat areas for certain species, such as mule deer

Blaine Hoffman of Whiting Petroleum said the company uses the maps to determine where to put drilling locations and roads so they’ll have less impact.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said reducing impacts to wildlife is essential. Encouraging the development of pipelines is one example of what the council is doing to reduce impacts, he said.

“Companies want to do this and we will continue these efforts,” Ness said.

John Devney, vice president of U.S. policy with the Delta Waterfowl Foundation who has attended all three of the group’s meetings, said the forum provides open and honest dialog between industry officials and conservation groups.

“I see this unique opportunity to really sit down and get this right from the beginning,” Devney said.

Hunting rifle used in New Town shootings

BISMARCK – A hunting rifle was used in the homicides that killed a New Town grandmother and three children, according to autopsy reports.

Documents from the State Forensic Medical Examiner’s Office state that Martha Johnson, 64, and her grandson Ben Schuster, 13, died from a gunshot wounds to the head from a .25-06 rifle.

Julia Schuster, 10, died from a gunshot wound to the chest and Luke Schuster, 6, suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, according to the report.

The injuries occurred about 3 p.m. Nov. 18 at Johnson’s home at 301 6th St. N. in New Town.

New Town Police Chief Arthur Walgren said the victims had no vital signs when first-responders arrived on scene shortly after the 911 call came in at 3:17 p.m.

Christian Schuster, 12, called 911 after he survived by playing dead, authorities have said.

Kalcie Eagle, 21, the man the FBI has labeled a person of interest, died from self-inflicted cutting wounds to the neck, according to the Medical Examiner’s report. The time of injury was 7:10 p.m. Nov. 18 in the area of First Avenue Southwest in Parshall, the report said.

Walgren said the rifle did not belong to Eagle, but may have belonged to a family member.

Local authorities initially had jurisdiction over the case, but the FBI is now handling it because Eagle is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, Walgren said. New Town lies within the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Although the FBI has not said Eagle is the suspected shooter, Walgren said authorities believe all suspects are accounted for.

“We believe that he was the actor,” Walgren said.

The 25-06 is a small-caliber hunting rifle that is somewhat uncommon, Walgren said.

“I don’t know a lot of people who own those types of guns,” Walgren said.

Johnson’s funeral was held Monday in New Town. Services for the Schuster children are scheduled for Thursday in Warsaw, N.D., where the children lived before moving in with their grandparents.

New Dunn County petition expected to circulate

WILLISTON, N.D. – A new petition will be circulated in Dunn County to seek a grand jury investigation of Gov. Jack Dalrymple after a judge dismissed a petition last week in part due to a lack of qualified signatures.

Meanwhile, Grand Forks attorney David Thompson said he will file an appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court this week regarding Southwest Judicial District Judge William Herauf’s ruling that Dunn County is not the appropriate venue for the petition.

Thompson said a new petition seeking a citizen-initiated grand jury process has been prepared and will be filed at the same time as he pursues an appeal.

“We’re going to start from scratch,” Thompson said. “A number of the people will certainly be the same.”

Paul Sorum, the independent candidate for governor who asked Thompson to draft the petition, said Monday the effort to collect signatures will begin soon.

The petition alleges that oil industry campaign contributions accepted by Dalrymple’s campaign could be considered bribery.

Dalrymple serves as chairman of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which was considering a controversial “mega-unit” for drilling oil in Dunn County about the same time he received some of the contributions.

For the petition that was filed Nov. 2, organizers needed at least 167 signatures based on the number of Dunn County residents who voted in the most recent governor’s race.

A total of 2,017 people voted for governor in Dunn County on Nov. 6, according to the Dunn County Auditor’s Office. Sixty percent voted for Dalrymple.

Even though the number of signatures will be greater this time at 201 or 202, Sorum said he doesn’t expect that to be a problem.

“It’s going to be relatively easy to get the number of signatures,” he said, adding that the last effort took three days.

The appeal will focus on Herauf’s ruling that Dunn County is not the appropriate venue for a grand jury investigation because there are no allegations that any Dalrymple received any of the campaign contributions in question in Dunn County.

Thompson said he will argue that Dunn County is the appropriate venue because that is where the consequences of the alleged actions occurred. He said North Dakota Century Code supports his argument.

Thompson also plans to argue that the court erred by not holding a hearing regarding the signatures.

Herauf identified seven petitioners who indicated that their addresses are outside of Dunn County. Absent those seven signatures, the total falls to 166.

Herauf also questioned 55 signatures that list post office boxes, which is a mailing address, not a residential address. In addition, Herauf noted that 16 signatures were absent addresses and also subject to exclusion.

Thompson said he believes the judge erred by drawing conclusions about those signatures without holding an evidentiary hearing.

“We feel that it’s important to have the Supreme Court adjudicate these issues where we believe the district court committed directly identifiable error,” Thompson said.

Dalrymple’s campaign has said the allegations in the petition are baseless and the effort was politically motivated.

Faces of the Boom: Driving in pursuit of life as an artist

Kurt Wensmann, 26, shown in this Nov. 14, 2012, photo at a Williston, N.D., truck stop, is working as an oilfield truck driver. He plans to pay off his student loans and then open an art studio. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – Kurt Wensmann is an oilfield truck driver with a dream on hold.
The 26-year-old artist is working long hours now so he can be debt-free by 27 and open a ceramics studio.

“To make it as an artist, you have to have flexibility,” said Wensmann, who spent some time as a resident potter at a New Zealand community clay center. “If you owe a bunch of people money, you don’t have that flexibility.”

Wensmann, a 2010 graduate of the University of North Dakota’s ceramics program, began working in the oilfield in March of 2011. He spent four months working with a crew that serviced oil wells, but decided that wasn’t the job for him.

“I had no desire to do it in the winter,” Wensmann said.

Then Wensmann worked to earn his commercial driver’s license. He grew up on a dairy farm near Richmond, Minn., so learning to drive a truck wasn’t much different than the equipment he’s operated.

Wensmann hauls crude oil all over western North Dakota, typically working 12- to 14-hour days. He prefers to work a schedule of two weeks on, one week off, sleeping in his truck during his work weeks.

He recently began blogging about his experience, posting photos of scenes he encounters during his travels.

If he works three or more weeks in a row, that gets long for Wensmann, who once got so bored he measured the size of his sleeper cab using his body lengths.

“It gets crowded, even with one person,” Wensmann said.

Wensmann has a small house that he’s fixing up near Leeds when he’s not working. He bought it to be close to his girlfriend, who works as a middle school art teacher in Devils Lake.

His plan is to build a garage or shed with a loft for his girlfriend’s art studio and space for his pottery on the main level.

Wensmann enjoys the subtle beauty of the North Dakota landscape, and he expects that somehow it will influence his art.

“Some of the sunsets are just magical,” he said.

Wensmann expects to continue to working as a truck driver for another year so he can pay off his student loans. By then, he’ll have two years of truck driving experience and could use that commercial driver’s license to supplement his income down the road.

“I’m not out here forever,” Wensmann said. “It’s a way to get ahead.”

Famous Bakken formation named for North Dakota homesteaders

Lorin Bakken, pictured here on Oct. 21, 2012, walks on his family homestead near the site of the Henry O. Bakken well near Tioga, N.D. The well gave the Bakken oil formation its name. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

TIOGA, N.D. –  Lorin Bakken recalls it was 2007 when he began seeing his name in the newspaper and on TV frequently as the oil boom started to heat up.

Since then, his family name has become synonymous with oil and opportunity.

“I feel so honored,” Lorin said in a rare interview.

Lorin is the only son of Henry O. Bakken. The Bakken formation — the pool of oil that lies beneath western North Dakota, northeast Montana and part of Canada — is named for the well drilled in 1951 and 1952 on the Henry O. Bakken farm northeast of Tioga.

While Lorin Bakken, 59, says he feels honored, he avoids the attention he could easily draw to himself. He still lives in Tioga, but he keeps such a low profile that many people don’t know he’s connected to the Bakken boom.

He lives in a modest house, doesn’t own a car and hasn’t worked since he stopped working on his family’s farm in 1992. He primarily keeps to himself, although he regularly attends Zion Lutheran Church, eats lunch twice a week at the senior center and does errands in downtown Tioga.

Lorin said he was private before his name became famous, and he hasn’t changed.

Kathy Neset, a geologist who has been working in Tioga since 1979 and regularly gives talks on the Bakken formation, has never met Lorin, even though her farm is about 2 miles north of his family homestead.

“What a treasure we have here to know we have a family member right here,” Neset said.

Neset said it’s fitting that North Dakota’s famous formation would be named for a quiet, private family.

“It speaks to the culture of North Dakota. People are very reserved, they’re not going to be speaking out on their wealth or the naming of the formation for them,” Neset said. “I admire that trait and that quality and the good Scandinavian heritage here.”

First Iverson

The date of North Dakota’s first oil discovery is considered April 4, 1951, at the Clarence Iverson farm near Tioga, according to Mud, Sweat & Oil, a book about North Dakota’s first year of oil written by journalist and historian Bill Shemorry.

Shemorry’s photo of the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well became famous and the site is home to a historical marker.

The Clarence Iverson well produced from the Silurian, Duperow and Madison formations, but not the Bakken, Neset said. There are several oil-producing formations at different depths within the larger Williston Basin.

“The Clarence Iverson takes the nod because it was the first oil discovered,” Neset said. “It’s really the well that put the 1950s boom on the map.”

But another oil strike near Tioga – aptly known as the oil capital of North Dakota – would put the state on the map decades later.

The Amerada Petroleum Co. began drilling the Henry O. Bakken well on July 13, 1951, and first encountered oil on Sept. 5 of that year, according to a program for an oil strike celebration the family held weeks later.

Production didn’t begin on the well until April 1952, according to the North Dakota Industrial Commission. Today, Bakken wells are drilled in less than a month.

“Back in those days, that was a huge undertaking, drilling to that depth,” Neset said.

The Henry O. Bakken well produced a total of 255,526 barrels of oil, which is a significant amount for a well that was drilled vertically, Neset said. She believes they must have encountered a naturally occurring fracture in the rock layer to get that much production.

The Bakken formation frustrated geologists for years because they knew the oil was there but they didn’t have the technology to extract the oil, said Neset, who came to North Dakota from New Jersey in 1979.

“The Henry O. Bakken well didn’t really get its just excitement until we came back and made the Bakken economically successful with horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation,” Neset said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses water, sand and chemicals to stimulate or create fractures in the rock to help extract the oil.

Cause for celebration

Lorin, who was born in 1953, said he recalls his family talking more about the celebration than about the oil strike itself.

A program for the celebration that is in the Norseman Museum in Tioga shows that Henry Bakken hosted a free barbecue with several family members and neighbors to celebrate the oil strike with performances by the school band and a vocalist. A free will offering was collected to benefit the new nursing home building.

That first well is often called the H.O. Bakken well, but is known in the Industrial Commission records as Henry O. Bakken.

Lorin said both his father, Henry, and uncle, Harry, had the same initials and were equal partners in the farm, so he considered the well to be named for both of them.

Their brothers Ludvig, Otto and Oscar, owned adjoining farms at the time of the oil celebration, according to the program.

Norway, Minnesota roots

Lorin is the grandson of Norwegian immigrants Otto and Mary Bakken, who were married near Granite Falls, Minn., according to Otto’s obituary.

Henry Bakken, Lorin’s father, was born March 25, 1901, in Maynard, Minn.

Harry Bakken was two years younger than Henry, born March 15, 1903.

The Wonder of Williams, a book by the Williams County Historical Society, says this about the Otto and Mary Bakken family:

They had 13 children and lived in Thief River Falls, but their farm was too small and land prices were too high to provide a living for their family.

In 1907, Otto and Mary moved to North Dakota with eight of their children. Otto’s brother, Carl Bakken, was a land locator and helped him find land northeast of Tioga. For a time, the Bakkens lived in a two-room house owned by Carl.

“When Henry gets started, he likes to talk and sometimes he doesn’t know when to stop,” says the description of Henry in the Wonder of Williams book.

Harry married Mildred Schenstad on Dec. 26, 1951, at Hanks, N.D. They had two daughters who died at infancy and a son who died at age 2.

Henry Bakken got married at age 51 to Lois Ulvin in Sept. 30, 1952, in Williston. Lorin was their only son.

Harry and Mildred were Lorin’s godparents and Lorin at times lived with them.

“Those four people were together all their lives,” Lorin said of his parents and his aunt and uncle.

A country person 

Lorin graduated from Tioga High School in 1972 and worked on the farm until he moved with his aunt and uncle into town in 1992.

“I was happy and content to be on the farm,” Lorin said.” Once you’re a country person, you’re always a country person.”

Lorin, who never married, still owns the homestead and has never considered selling it. He said he didn’t keep in touch with relatives who moved out of the area, so he’s not aware of other surviving Bakken family descendants.

Lorin’s land currently has one producing oil well on it. He is private about his personal gains from oil.

Even though he’s a Bakken, Lorin has mixed feelings on the Bakken boom. He sees the economic benefits, but is nostalgic for the wide, open spaces that are changing as more wells are drilled and the population soars.

“On one hand, it’s economic growth and it’s good for the state and good for the people,” Lorin said. “On the other hand … you miss it the way it used to be, too.”

Judge dismisses petition seeking grand jury investigation of governor

A judge has dismissed a Dunn County petition to call a grand jury to investigate Gov. Jack Dalrymple over felony bribery allegations.

Southwest Judicial District Judge William Herauf ruled Wednesday that at least seven signatures are not from qualified Dunn County voters, and therefore the petition did not have enough signatures to meet the requirements of a citizen-initiated grand jury process.

Herauf also ruled that Dunn County was not the appropriate jurisdiction to bring the charges. The petition alleges that oil industry campaign contributions accepted by Dalrymple’s campaign could be considered bribery. Dalrymple serves as chairman of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which was considering a controversial “mega-unit” for drilling oil in Dunn County about the same time he received some of the contributions.

Herauf said Burleigh County would be the appropriate venue because that is where the governor’s office is, where the Industrial Commission meets and there is no indication that Dalrymple received campaign contributions in Dunn County.

In his ruling, Herauf notes that North Dakota is one of a handful of states that allows citizen-directed grand juries, but it has seldom been used.

“Thus, as I went through the statute and the case law, I kept coming up with more questions than I was able to find answers,” Herauf said.

Grand Forks attorney David Thompson, who drafted the petition but was not involved with collecting signatures, said he was disappointed with the ruling and believes he has grounds for an appeal.

The petition had 173 signatures and needed at least 167 to meet the requirement of 10 percent of the voters who participated in the last general election.

Herauf identifies seven petitioners who indicated that their addresses are in Bismarck, Fargo, Dickinson, Laverne or New Town. Absent those seven signatures, the total falls to 166.

Herauf also questions 55 signatures that list post office boxes, which is a mailing address not a residential address. In addition, Herauf notes that 16 signatures were absent addresses and also subject to exclusion.

Thompson said he disagrees with the judge’s assessment of some of the signatures.

“Just because someone doesn’t put an address down doesn’t mean they can be excluded,” Thompson said. “I don’t think the judge or anybody else could conclusively determine just from a piece of paper whether somebody could have voted in Dunn County on election day.”

Herauf issued his ruling Wednesday on the petition that was submitted Nov. 2, days before Dalrymple was up for re-election. Paul Sorum, who challenged Dalrymple as an independent candidate in the election, asked Thompson to draft the petition.

Dalrymple’s campaign has said the allegations are baseless and the effort was politically motivated.

No hearings were held on the petition.

“I was disappointed that Judge Herauf did not conduct a hearing at which both the Dunn County state’s attorney and I would have been permitted to discuss the petition with the judge and address any apparent difficulties with any of the signatures on the petition,” Thompson said.

Herauf said the petitioners can re-file the petition with the proper number of signatures, but that doesn’t resolve the jurisdiction issue.

Thompson said he disagrees with Herauf’s ruling that Dunn County is not an appropriate venue. Thompson said the unit is in Dunn County, and that’s where the consequences of the actions occurred.

Thompson said he will evaluate what his next step is. He said his options are to examine the signatures and determine if the count is actually 167 or higher; appeal to the state Supreme Court; or pursue a petition effort in Burleigh County.

“This does not substantively exonerate Gov. Dalrymple from bribery in any way, shape or form,” Thompson said.

Judge Herauf was appointed by former Gov. John Hoeven in 2006 and elected in 2008. Dalrymple was Hoeven’s lieutenant governor.


Victim of shooting was prominent New Town community member

NEW TOWN, N.D. – The woman who was killed here Sunday was president of her church council, served on many community boards and cut fabric squares for the quilting club, neighbors and friends said Monday.

“Martha Johnson was probably one of the nicest people I ever knew,” said Manda Patterson wife of the Rev. Grant Patterson at Bethel Lutheran Church where Johnson served on the church council. “She was a delightful woman with just a big heart and would do anything for anybody.”

Johnson worked for Northrop Grumman in New Town and retired a few years ago, said Nina Uran, who lives in Johnson’s neighborhood and attended church with her. Johnson was involved with the community, including the American Legion Auxiliary and a quilting club, Uran said.

“She was just willing to do most everything,” Uran said.

Johnson was instrumental in helping transition the Good Samaritan assisted living home to Lakeside Community Living Center, said Marilyn Hudson, who recently took over Johnson’s seat on the board.

Johnson’s husband, Harley, is also active in the community and always the first to volunteer to cook for benefit breakfasts and other community events, Hudson said.

The Johnsons recently began taking care of their five grandchildren, Uran said. Three of those grandchildren were killed by the same gunman in Johnson’s home.

Many New Town residents learned about the shooting Sunday evening at a community-wide Thanksgiving dinner, Uran said.

“Sad. Shocking that it would happen in this town and to such a nice family,” Uran said.

Patterson said it will be important for people to pray for the Johnson family, as well as the family of the suspect who also died Sunday.

“It’s devastating for the community,” Patterson said. “It’s going to be a hard thing for a long time.”

Shooting deaths rattle residents of New Town, Parshall

Police tape was the only remnant Monday afternoon in downtown Parshall, N.D., where an adult male reportedly killed himself Sunday evening. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

By Amy Dalrymple and Stephen J. Lee
Forum Communications

NEW TOWN, N.D. – The 911 call came at 3:17 p.m. Sunday from a young boy who told Mountrail County dispatchers that a man had come into his home and shot his family.

The boy hung up before dispatchers could get more information, but the call was traced to  301 6th St. N. in New Town. There authorities found four victims, a woman and three of her grandchildren, identified by the Mountrail County Sheriff’s Office as Martha Johnson, 64, Ben Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10 and Luke Schuster, 6.

Neighbors said the 12-year-old boy who called 911,  also Johnson’s grandchild,  survived by playing dead, which New Town Police Chief Arthur Walgren confirmed.

About 7 p.m. Sunday, law enforcement learned a man had made statements about the crime. While investigators were questioning him in Parshall, about 17 miles east of New Town, he killed himself with a knife, said Sheriff Ken Halvorson.

Johnson was caring for five grandchildren, according to friends and neighbors. The fifth grandchild was not home at the time, Walgren said. Her husband, Harley, also was not home at the time.

Police were no longer on the scene Monday morning of the house where a grandmother and three children were shot and killed Sunday afternoon. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

The FBI, aided by the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is leading the investigation with Mountrail County Sheriff Ken Halvorson, FBI spokesman Kyle Loven, said.

The FBI has taken the lead largely because New Town and Parshall are on an Indian reservation, Loven said.

“Right now we are the lead agency, working in concert with the BCI and the BIA,” Loven  said. “It really is a joint investigation.”

Any serious crime on an Indian reservation typically can involve the FBI’s jurisdiction, he said.

The suspect was an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes,  the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara,  that live on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Authorities did not release the name of the suspect, but several sources including law enforcement and tribal members confirmed he’s the son of a former tribal council member.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, expressed condolences Monday night for the family of former tribal council member Scott Eagle during a prayer service and call to action.

Walgren said he doesn’t believe there is any connection between the suspect and Johnson, other than he may have been a casual acquaintance.

The shooting left residents of both towns shaken.

Some New Town residents left town after reports of the shootings and many offices were closed Monday, Walgren said. A woman who lives across the street from the Johnsons was loading clothes into her car Monday and declined to comment.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of people uneasy about it,” Walgren said.

New Town Superintendent Marc Bluestone said he made the decision to call off classes about 9 p.m. Sunday because he hadn’t received confirmation from police that there was no longer a safety risk.

Classes will resume today and counselors, social workers and clergy will be available to assist students and staff. Today is the last day of class before Thanksgiving break.

All five of Johnson’s grandchildren were enrolled in the district, ranging in age from first through eighth grades, Bluestone said. They began attending school in New Town in late September, Bluestone said. They previously attended school in Minto.

Bluestone, who has worked for the district since 1989, said the district has dealt with deaths due to accidents and illnesses before, but never homicide deaths.

“The thought that is troublesome to me is that you don’t hear about things like this is small town North Dakota,” Bluestone said. “It’s really a shock to everyone when it’s your safe little town. It’s very scary for all of us.”

Middle School Principal Andrew DeCoteau said he’s taken phone calls from students, including one girl who was crying, about the death of their classmate, whom police identified as Ben.

“They were pretty shaken on the phone,” DeCoteau said. “A lot of kids were just getting to know him. All of the teachers got along with him real well.”

The suspect also is a longtime community member and has family members who attend school and work for the district, Bluestone said.

In Parshall, residents also were concerned for their safety because they didn’t know what was going on, said resident Marilyn Hudson.

“There was a great deal of fear,” Hudson said.

Parshall Mayor Richard Bolkan said 30 to 40 law enforcement vehicles had blocked off about three blocks of downtown Sunday night when he drove by to check out what was going on. When he came to work at 5 a.m. Monday, the police vehicles were gone, he said.

“I myself am trying to figure out what happened,” Bolkan said.

Hudson, who knew Johnson well, said the values of safety and community closeness are now gone.

“The innocence of the small town life is gone or it’s being tested right now,” Hudson said. “That’s really tragic for us. We won’t be the same again.”

New Town, site of the tribal headquarters, is about 60 miles southwest of Minot near the heart of North Dakota’s Bakken oil boom.

Kenneth Hall, a tribal representative, called for a “Prayer Service & Call to Action” on Monday evening in the New Town community center. Many residents, tribal officials and law enforcement attended.

Chairman Hall said he was glad to see a large turnout for the event.

“It’s wonderful to see the community of New Town come together like this,” Hall said.

Kenneth Hall, North Segment Tribal Business Council Representative for the Three Affiliated Tribes, greets residents and law enforcement who attended a prayer service and call to action Monday following the shooting deaths of a grandmother and three children and the suicide of an adult male. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

FBI investigating deaths of grandmother, three children in New Town and adult male in Parshall

NEW TOWN, N.D. – The FBI has taken over the investigation of four deaths in New Town, a Mountrail County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher said this morning.

Meanwhile, the Minot Daily News reports that a fifth person died Sunday evening in Parshall, a town less than 20 miles east of New Town, and investigators are working to determine if the death is connected to the deaths of a woman and three children Sunday afternoon in New Town.

The Sheriff’s Office has yet to issue a press release for either incident.

Sheriff Ken Halvorson told the Minot Daily News the New Town deaths occurred at a residence and were reported about 3 p.m. Sunday. A grandmother, two boys and a girl are the victims, Halvorson told the newspaper.

The victim of the Parshall incident, which occurred about 8:30 p.m., is an adult male, Halvorson told the newspaper.

The deaths of the woman and children were “very terrifying” and sad, not only for the family but the whole community, said the Rev. Grant Patterson, pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in New Town. He knows the victims, he said.

Marc Bluestone, superintendent of the public school in New Town, said he decided to call off classes for today because of “the tragedy in our community.”

Although he has not been told anything by the sheriff, from what he’s heard from neighbors and friends, the child victims were students in the school.

“In the best interests of our community and school, with the limited information we have, my decision is to call off school for (today),” he said.

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