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Neighbor who saw standoff says city has changed

Mahnomen - Ken Otto paced back and forth so much on Wednesday that his wife had to tell him to stop for fear he'd have a heart attack. The couple had heard shots ring out just after 7 a.m. and saw two men dart into a trailer across the street, beginning a roughly eight-hour standoff Wednesday that sent law enforcement swarming to the area.

Mahnomen resident Ken Otto describes the scene he and his wife, Joyce, witnessed from their windows Wednesday after hearing shots ring out just after 7 a.m. They saw two men dart into a trailer across the street, beginning a roughly eight-hour standoff.

Just four houses down, Otto bolted outside after an ambulance arrived to retrieve Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey, who was shot in the head and abdomen.

"If I'd have took my rifle out when I went out, I would have had him," said Otto, referring to one of the fleeing men.

As the first law enforcement officers arrived, the recently retired Mahnomen native returned to his home, bouncing from the dining room window to the living room window.

Otto wasn't pacing out of fear, but over frustration at what had transpired.

"Something's got to be done; there's just too much crime," Otto said Thursday. "If you can't get out and walk down your street, something's wrong."

The city of about 1,200 people has changed over the years, Otto said, noting that he doesn't recognize everyone anymore.

"We've had a number of people move in from out of the area, and that kind of changes the chemistry of the area," Mahnomen County Sheriff Doug Krier said.

He added that he used to be able to drive around town and know who had company and spot a car that was out of place, but not anymore.

"It's changed a lot," Krier said. "Now it's you don't recognize a lot of people. The locals you recognize, but it's just changed over the last 20 years."

The two men arrested in connection with Wednesday's shooting are not originally from the area.

Both have criminal histories, but Krier said he was not sure of the history his department had with Thomas Lee Fairbanks, 32, and Daniel Kurt Vernier, 27.

Court records show that deputies responded to domestic violence complaints in September and July involving Vernier and Fairbanks' 26-year-old sister, who lives in Mahnomen. One incident led to a felony charge of second-degree assault with a dangerous knife. The two, who have been together for about seven years, have a 4-year-old son together and are expecting twins, court documents show.

Prosecutors are expected to file numerous felony charges against Vernier and Fairbanks today. Both will appear in Mahnomen County District Court at 9:30 a.m.

Fairbanks faces first- and second-degree attempted murder charges and is alleged to have shot Dewey, Mahnomen County Attorney Julie Bruggeman said.

"We don't believe that (Vernier) ever fired the gun," Bruggeman said, adding that authorities are waiting for confirmation from ballistics testing.

Multiple felony first-degree assault charges will also be filed for the shots fired at Dewey and for shots fired from within the mobile home after the standoff began. Officers outside heard shots at 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., Bruggeman said.

Authorities are still investigating the incident and do not yet have a motive, Krier said.

"In law enforcement, you always think that something could happen like that, but it's kind of on the back burner," Krier said, "especially you get up here, we get kind of complacent, especially if things are the same thing, day after day after day the same type of calls."

Otto was still visibly upset Thursday, saying he thought something like that wouldn't happen in a small community, but "evidently we've got hardened criminals here."

"A guy doing his job, you know, a young man, and some scum like that (shoots him), it just upsets me," Otto said.