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FBI investigating New Town slayings: Questions remain as little to no info is released

Residents of New Town have been left with more questions than answers following a Sunday night shooting that left a grandmother and three of her five grandchildren dead in their home.

Rumors continued to swirl around the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation community in western North Dakota's booming Oil Patch, but the investigating agency -- the FBI -- has remained tight-lipped about what, if any, findings it has made.

"It's FBI policy to not release information during an ongoing investigation," said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven. "At this time, we continue to believe there is no threat to the public regarding this case. When the investigation is concluded, whenever that is, we will release more information."

One local law enforcement official identified 21-year-old Kalcie Eagle of New Town as the shooter in the deaths of Martha Johnson, 64, Ben Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10, and Luke Schuster, 6. Twelve-year-old Christian Schuster avoided being shot by playing dead under a deceased sibling during the shooting while his 8-year-old sister escaped injury because she was playing down the street away from the home.

Eagle committed suicide in Parshall Sunday night shortly after the shootings.

With the FBI in charge of the investigation and saying very little about the case, not much is known about any possible motive for the shootings.

"We may never know why this happened," Mountrail County Sheriff Kenneth Halvorson said Wednesday. "Martha was retired and her husband, Harley, had worked in the oil field for many years. We know that the individual in question lived a half-block away from the Johnsons. This may have been a crime of opportunity."

This, according to Halvorson, is what is known: Sometime after the shootings Sunday, Eagle was at a social gathering in Parshall with family members. Sometime before 7 p.m., Eagle had an altercation with a family member and began injuring himself with a knife.

Law enforcement located Eagle on a street in Parshall after receiving a call about someone cutting themselves, but officers were not able to revive him before he died as a result of his apparently self-inflicted wounds.

But another Sunday night run-in with law enforcement has left some in New Town wondering if there might be another person of interest in the crime.

The Dickinson Press learned Wednesday that a crime involving a female tribal law enforcement officer took place in New Town at the same time as when officials were doing a preliminary investigation into the shooting scene at Johnson's 301 Sixth St. N. home.

New Town Police Chief Arthur Walgren said that after arriving at the Johnson residence, he received a call of an "officer down" and responded to another New Town location where he said a suspect being questioned for possible warrant violations sped off in a vehicle, dragging the female tribal officer for a distance before she was freed.

While traveling back to the shooting scene, Walgren said the female officer "rear-ended" his police vehicle. Walgren said the officer was hospitalized following the accident.

"From everything we received following the shootings, we don't have reason to believe there was more than one shooter or that the other incident is at all related to the shootings," Walgren said. "We know that a high-powered rifle was used in the shootings and that Kalcie Eagle was a person of interest at the time of his suicide. Beyond that, it's the FBI's case."

The FBI, however, has not said what the motive was for the shooting and if the seemingly bizarre incident across town from the Johnson home was related.

Loven said that the frustrations felt by many in the community with regard to a lack of information being released about the apparent crimes following the shootings were "not lost on the FBI."

Numerous New Town, Parshall and Fort Berthold community members have expressed displeasure this week with the handling of the case, including New Town School District Superintendent Marc Bluestone, who was driving back from Kansas City during the time of the shootings.

"I made the decision to cancel classes in our district on Monday because I didn't receive word that it was safe in our community until mid-Monday morning," Bluestone said. "As a citizen and a superintendent, it was very frustrating. There was never any type of public announcement -- we would have liked to have more information."

Messages left this week for Three Affiliated Tribes Police Chief Blaine Flynn were not returned as of Wednesday evening. Eagle, who was arrested following a multi-county high-speed police chase in March, was the son of former New Town school board member and Three Tribes councilman Scott Eagle.

The Bethal Lutheran Church in New Town, where Martha Johnson was a councilmember, has set up a benefit fund for the Johnson family to help offset funeral costs. The Three Tribes is made up of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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