Turtle Mountain death prompts manhunt, lockdowns
BELCOURT — A widespread search for two suspects in a fatal shooting in Belcourt early Wednesday was called off by noon, apparently because law enforcement authorities were certain of the location of the suspects and the safety of the public, according to law enforcement sources.
One man is dead in Belcourt, which is on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, near the Canadian border in Rolette County.
The FBI is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies on the open investigation, said Kyle Loven, spokesman in the FBI’s Minneapolis office, which oversees North Dakota.
Despite reports from more than one local law enforcement source that a suspect turned himself in Wednesday, “no one is in custody,” Loven said just before 5 p.m. Wednesday. “The investigation is ongoing.”
Even so, Loven said, “there is no public safety issue. This is an ongoing matter but we do not believe this was a random act of violence.”
His office also is not yet describing the death as the result of a shooting, or even as a homicide, necessarily.
“It’s a suspicious death,” he said late Wednesday. “If the facts determine it is, we will call it a homicide.”
Wednesday morning, public safety officials in the region said they were seeking two suspects in a fatal shooting at a home in Belcourt.
Law enforcement sources, speaking unofficially, said they were told of two men considered suspects and that one had turned himself in and the other was headed Wednesday afternoon toward Minot.
Based on the names given to local law enforcement agencies, the two men, like the victim, have lengthy criminal records involving drugs.
But Loven said late Wednesday no suspect was in custody in the case.
Tribal sources indicated a Belcourt man in his late 20s was dead from the shooting, but law enforcement sources would not yet confirm the identity.
The man’s Facebook account included notes of grieving from those who know him.
He has a lengthy criminal record in North Dakota, including convictions on drug violations, domestic assault and fleeing police and has spent time in jail in North Dakota and Minnesota in recent years, according to court records. He recently has lived in Fargo.
A friend from Fargo, who said she has known the man well since 2002, said she talked to his mother Wednesday.
The victim had lived in Fargo, where he attended high school, and also has lived in Belcourt, his friend said.
Turtle Mountain Tribal Emergency Manager Anita Blue, who also serves as the spokeswoman for the tribe, said early Wednesday several aircraft were flying as part of the effort to track the suspects.
Blue said she didn’t have specifics on the reported shooting or victims. However, she said it happened at a house in the Eagle’s View subdivision, which has approximately 60 homes, in Belcourt.
Sheriff’s departments in Rolette County, around Belcourt, and nearby Pierce County in Rugby said its deputies had blocked off roads around Belcourt to assist in the search for two suspects.
Grand Forks law enforcement officials said they had been alerted to look for certain vehicles and individuals, although they had no information that any suspects were headed toward Grand Forks.
By about 11:50 a.m., area sheriff’s departments had pulled their roadblock operations, according to spokespeople at the departments.
Rolette County Sheriff Rodney Trottier said he canceled the roadblocks his deputies were involved in at about 11:50 a.m.
Officials at the Belcourt Police Department and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Rugby confirmed the roadblocks had been canceled at that time.
News of the shooting had the entire region on alert, with several local agencies involved in roadblocks.
Trottier said his office was assisting in a manhunt for “a couple of individuals” who may be connected to at least one death in Belcourt.
Public schools in the region, the Turtle Mountain Community College and tribal headquarters were locked down for safety’s sake, Blue said.
Mike McNeff, superintendent of schools in Rugby which is about 45 minutes from Belcourt, said Rugby police phoned him between 7 and 8 a.m. to say there had been a shooting and possible homicide in Belcourt.
Police advised a number of institutions in Rugby, including the hospital and the elementary school and high school to go into lockdown, as they weren’t sure where the responsible parties were, McNeff told Forum News Service.
McNeff said they went into lockdown at the elementary school and high school, meaning the doors are locked and they are paying attention to who is around.
Wednesday afternoon, McNeff said although he had heard that the suspects reportedly had been located, he was going to keep the lockdown in place.
“It’s just easier this way, less confusing for our patrons,” McNeff said. And simpler, he said, than putting out another alert calling off the lockdown for the last three hours of the day.