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Shooting deaths in New Town, N.D., leave community in state of shock

By Bryan Horwath, Forum Communications

NEW TOWN, N.D. – With their community still in shock after a shooting that left a grandmother and three of her grandchildren dead Sunday, the communities of New Town and the Three Affiliated Tribes continued picking up the pieces two days later.

After receiving a 911 call at 3:17 p.m. Sunday from a juvenile male who said someone had “shot his family,” authorities responded to the 300 block of 6th Street North in New Town and found Martha Johnson, 64, Ben Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10, and Luke Schuster, 6, deceased.

Twelve-year-old Christian Schuster avoided being shot by playing dead during the shooting while his 8-year-old sister escaped injury by being down the street at the time of the crime, according to the Associated Press.

In a case that authorities were not yet officially linking to the shootings, a 21-year-old New Town man committed suicide Sunday evening “while investigators were in the process of questioning him” in Parshall, according to a release Monday from the Mountrail County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Kenneth Halvorson confirmed to The Dickinson Press that the man who took his life was Kalcie Eagle, son of former Three Tribes councilman and New Town School Board member Scott Eagle.

“I don’t know if the community will ever recover from this,”said United Church of Christ Pastor Marilyn Levine, who lives next door to the Johnsons. “I think everyone here is still numb over this. Our community is crying.”

Formerly an employee at Northrop Grumman in New Town, Johnson was retired and had recently taken in the grandchildren, said Levine.

“Martha was very active in the community and was just a joy,” Levine said. “It’s tough to lose someone like that. Martha had a big garden and I remember her coming over at times and asking me if she could remove the invasive flowers in my yard. She had a wonderful reputation here.”

New Town is on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, giving the FBI jurisdiction over the shootings and subsequent suicide. Parshall is a town about 20 miles from New Town.

Levine referred to Eagle as a “neighborhood kid” and described him as “troubled.” Law enforcement officials in the area were not unfamiliar with Eagle, who was arrested after leading authorities on a multi-county high-speed chase in March, according to police records.

After cancelling classes Monday due to lingering safety concerns in the aftermath of the shooting and the confusion that remained, grief counselors were on hand at all three New Town School District locations. New Town High School records indicated Eagle was enrolled at the school as recently as 2009, but did not graduate.

“It’s just a very somber mood here,” said NTHS Principal John Gartner. “The (Schuster) children were only enrolled in our district since late last month. This is something that our community isn’t used to.”

At approximately 7 p.m. Sunday night, a “person of interest was brought to the attention of the sheriff’s office who had made statements in regards to the above crime.” While being questioned by officials, the individual committed suicide, according to the sheriff’s office press release.

Three Tribes North Segment Council Rep. L. Ken Hall declined to comment through a spokesman, though a release was issued by the office of Three Tribes Chairman Tex Hall offering “prayers and sincere sympathies to the families of the victims in (Sunday’s) tragedies.”

Confusion reigned in the area after the shootings as some residents fled the town, fearing for their own safety. With no official word on the whereabouts of the shooter or shooters, others called friends and neighbors instructing them to lock their doors, said Marilyn Hudson, a Parshall resident and family friend of the Johnsons.

“We didn’t have any information as to if there was a shooter on the loose Sunday night,” Hudson said. “We had nothing to go on until Monday. People will say that this is because of the oil boom, but it’s not. This was a local thing. We’re all just tremendously sad right now.”

The bodies of the deceased were taken to Bismarck for autopsies. It was unknown Tuesday afternoon as to when funeral arraignments were to be set.

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