FBI agent discloses new details in death of Spirit Lake foster child
Tokio, N.D., foster parents Erich Longie Jr. and Tammy Longie were ordered to remain incarcerated while they await trial. They are accused of assaulting four children who were in their care, including 5-year-old Raven Thompson, who died from her injuries on May 6.
GRAND FORKS -- Erich Longie Jr.'s head hung and Tammy Longie's sobs could be heard throughout the courtroom on Thursday, May 21, as FBI Special Agent Jerrod Birchler described to the court the injuries that led to the death of their foster child, 5-year-old Raven Thompson.
Thompson was found dead at the Longies' residence on May 6 with evidence of recent and longer-term blunt force trauma to her head, neck, chest, stomach and extremities, Birchler said. As part of the ensuing investigation, three other children were discovered to have injuries medical professionals called consistent with abuse, and a total of seven children, ages 11 months to 12 years, were removed from the home. The Longies were arrested by the FBI in connection with Thompson's death at a family member's Tokio residence on May 15, Birchler said.
The Longies each face two counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury and two counts of simple assault. At their preliminary hearing and detention hearing Thursday, May 21, their respective attorneys argued in favor of electronic home monitoring as they await their trial, stating that they each had very minimal criminal history, strong ties to the area and had expressed no intent to flee. Taking into account the seriousness of the crimes of which they are accused and the fact they have received a number of death threats on social media, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal ordered both Longies remain incarcerated.
Christopher Lancaster, the public defender representing Tammy Longie, urged Senechal to reconsider her decision to take into account the threats made against the Longies, saying that the Longies should not be penalized for the actions of others. Senechal let her order stand.
Birchler, called as a witness during the preliminary hearing to establish probable cause that the defendants had committed the alleged crimes, said that the two counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury are for the injuries sustained by Raven and her brother Zane, 7, who was also found injured in a vehicle belonging to the Longies by a Spirit Lake Social Services investigator. Zane was taken to CHI St. Alexius Health in Devils Lake and then taken by air ambulance to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, where he spent nearly a week in the Intensive Care Unit. Birchler said Zane remains in inpatient care at Sanford.
Two other children, ages 6 and 8, who Birchler described as biologically related to Longie Jr., also disclosed abuse in forensic interviews following the incident. A third child, age 12, said she had not witnessed any abuse in the home, but that Raven was sick for several days before her death, unable to walk or sit up, and that no medical care was sought, Birchler told the court. The Longies also were interviewed in their home on May 10, which Birchler described as cluttered but clean. Birchler said that, when interviewed by law enforcement May 10, the Longies were not mirandized, did not have attorneys present and were not taken into custody.
Sometime after that interview was conducted, the Longies left their residence to stay with family a few miles away, according to Birchler, who said, that after receiving death threats, they felt "fearful" in their home, which also led Tammy Longie to attempt to obtain a firearm. Birchler said that, while the Longies themselves did not report the threats to law enforcement, a number of other family members and third parties did.
When FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Fort Totten police arrived at the Longies' residence with arrest warrants on May 15 and found no one home, they went to the family members' residence, where the Longies' vehicles and three adult children had recently been seen. No one answered their knocks at that residence, either, though male and female voices could be heard inside, Birchler recalled. He said about 25 minutes later, three cars with additional family members arrived at the residence. Birchler said that they informed the homeowner that, if the Longies were inside, she could be charged with harboring a fugitive. After the family members went inside, the Longies came outside a short time later and were arrested, Birchler said.
Following the removal of the Longies' biological and foster children from the home, Spirit Lake Social Services issued a no-contact directive, restricting the Longies from having contact with any of the children. Birchler said he believes Tammy knowingly violated that directive by providing one of the children with a cell phone. Text and Facebook messages between Tammy and the child show screenshots of the threats on social media and also messages from Tammy acknowledging she was not supposed to be talking with the child and encouraging the child to tell the truth during the forensic interview. Birchler said he did not believe Erich Longie Jr. had attempted to violate the no-contact directive.
United States Attorney Lori Conroy called the details of the case "horrific."
"They were acting as foster parents," Conroy said. "They volunteered and were entrusted with the care of not just children, but of vulnerable children."
The Longies each face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted for assault resulting in serious bodily injury, the more serious of the four charges. A subsequent court date has yet to be set in the case.