Jeremy Olson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
A Little Falls-area man has been arrested in connection with the Thanksgiving Day killings of two teenagers after their bodies were discovered in his basement, the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office said.
Deputies confronted Byron David Smith, 64, at his home Friday afternoon after they received a call of suspicious activity in the neighborhood, which is just north of Little Falls.
The sheriff’s report didn’t describe the nature of the suspicious activity, but deputies said Smith admitted to them during the conversation that he had shot two people the day before when they broke into his home.
In Smith’s basement, the deputies found the bodies of two high school students. Friends and school officials identified them as cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17.
Agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were called to join the investigation, which produced evidence that led to Smith’s arrest on suspicion of second-degree murder.
Neighbor John Lange said that Smith’s home had been burglarized at least twice before by area teens and that he might have “snapped” this time when he heard intruders enter a bedroom window. The shootings occurred in Smith’s basement, Lange said.
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said “a person has every right to defend themselves and their homes, even employing deadly force if necessary.” But the evidence suggests that Smith went “beyond that point,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators said they would release more details following Smith’s initial court appearance on Monday. The BCA’s criminal history website did not list any prior criminal convictions for Smith, a retiree who lives in a secluded house along the northern bank of the Mississippi River.
Kifer was a senior at Little Falls High School who had been involved in diving and gymnastics.
Brady was a new student this fall at Pillager High School. “Million-dollar smile,” Principal Scott Doss said in recalling the boy. “Nick is no longer with us. There are going to be some hurting kids.”
Little Falls Superintendent Stephen Jones said the school will have crisis counseling services available when classes resume this week for students who need support.
“We will certainly be there for kids who are struggling through this,” he said.
Pillager High School also will have counseling services available when classes resume Monday.
Friends created a memorial Facebook page for the two teens, recalling Brady as someone who “could make anyone smile even when it seemed like they didn’t want to” and Kifer as someone with “contagious happiness.”
Lange said Smith had worked in security and lived with his aging mother until she recently died. Smith volunteered as a Scout leader, paid area teens to work around his house, and allowed Lange’s son to practice with his band in his garage, Lange added. “He’s a really decent guy. I think he just snapped.”