(LITTLE FALLS, Minn.) — More than 400 people gathered at a Little Falls, Minn. church Saturday for the joint funeral of two cousins who were shot to death on Thanksgiving while burglarizing a home.
The deaths of Haile Kifer, 18, and Nicholas Brady, 17, have stunned residents of the community, who have a lot of unanswered questions about the holiday tragedy.
Rodney Bartkowicz, who said he was a relative of the victims, told Minnesota Public Radio that he remembers Kifer and Brady as “generally really good kids.”
“I know there’s a lot of anger right now because of everything that’s happening,” Bartkowicz said. “I know there’s a lot of … questions why it had to end up like it did. And I don’t believe they’ll ever really get a true answer, even in the courts.”
Byron Smith, 64, is charged with two counts of second degree murder in the shooting deaths of the teens.
Smith, who told police he had been burglarized in the past, admitted he fired “more shots than I needed,” according to a criminal complaint.
He told police he was sitting in his basement Nov. 22 — Thanksgiving Day — when he heard a window break upstairs and then footsteps, according to the complaint.
He said he first saw the feet, then the legs, then the hips of the intruder coming down the basement stairs. Smith said he believed he fired twice at Brady with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle, according to the complaint. Smith told police he then dragged the body on a tarp to his basement workshop.
Several minutes later, he told police, he heard more footsteps and waited until he saw Kifer’s hips as she descended the staircase.
“After shooting the person, she tumbled down the steps,” the complaint said. “Smith stated that he tried to shoot her again with the Mini-14 but the gun jammed.”
Smith told police Kifer laughed at him, describing it as a short laugh because she was in pain. But he said it “made him upset,” the complaint said.
“If you’re trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again,” he told police, according to the complaint.
As Kifer gasped for air, Smith dragged her body next to Brady’s, according to the complaint, and placed a handgun under her chin and fired what he allegedly told police was a “good clean finishing shot” that went “under her chin up into the cranium.”
Smith kept the bodies in his home overnight, police said, and called neighbors Friday, asking if they knew any lawyers. When the neighbors said they did not, Smith asked them to call authorities, according to the complaint.
Police responded to the call Friday and Smith led them to the teens’ bodies.
On Monday, the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office announced six bottles of pills that had been reported stolen from another home were found in a Mitsubishi Eclipse that had been driven by the teens.
The Little Falls Community Schools and Morrison County issued a joint statement on Friday expressing their commitment to help prevent substance abuse among Little Falls youth.
“Like other communities throughout Minnesota and our nation, substance use among youth and the harm associated with use are a concern to many community members. We worry about the negative and the far too often devastating outcomes that can result from these high-risk behaviors,” the statement said. “Addressing substance use issues in any community is a challenge, and we are united in our commitment to the health and safety of youth in our community.”
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