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Shootout affects survivors, Medina

MEDINA -- Twenty-five years later, Darrell Graf is still held prisoner by 30 seconds of gunfire and the aftermath that followed.

Graf didn't fire a shot, but he was there just the same.

The former Medina police chief was waiting with medical personnel a few hundred feet from the 1983 gun battle involving tax protestor Gordon Kahl and U.S. marshals trying to arrest him on a warrant for violating his probation.

U.S. Marshal Kenneth Muir and Deputy Marshal Bob Cheshire were killed during the shooting that followed a nine-minute standoff just north of Medina. A piece of asphalt from a ricocheting bullet struck Deputy Marshal James Hopson, causing brain damage. Kahl's son, Yorie, and former Medina police officer Steve Schnabel suffered bullet wounds. Stutsman County Deputy Bradley Kapp's trigger finger was blown off in the firefight.

Deputy Marshal Carl Wigglesworth was uninjured after finding himself in water up to his knees into a slough when chasing after Scott Faul, a Kahl supporter and one of the shooters.

"It was like a tornado coming and I couldn't do anything about it," Graff said.

Kahl, 63, stole a police car and fled the scene, eluding capture for four months before being killed in a shootout at an Arkansas farmhouse where he was hiding.

Memories from the shootout and the reaction and treatment Graf says he received afterwards have destroyed his life. Graf and Schnabel were fired soon after the incident; however, the mayor at the time said the occurrences were unrelated.

Graf has been accused of both telling the marshals Kahl was in town and then turning around and tipping Kahl off about the roadblock. Graf denies both allegations.

Such accusations have left a mark on Graf, Schnabel said.

"Even though I got shot in the deal it wasn't as traumatizing for me as it was for Darrell," Schnabel said. "His life was basically ruined over this thing."

In an effort to get out his story, the 52-year-old Graf, who no longer works in law enforcement, wrote a book with Schnabel, who was shot in the leg during the incident.

"That was our therapy," Schnabel said.

The book, entitled, "It's All About Power," is dedicated to victims of post traumatic stress disorder and includes Graf's own descriptions of his struggle since the shootout.

Even after the book, it's still personal for Graf.

He now lives in Bismarck, where he is involved in firefighter training. He still hunts and owns property in Medina, where it's not uncommon to see him waiving to other locals as he drives through town.

For Schnabel, 47, the effects of the shootout have gotten easier over the years, but "it's always there," he said.

"I've kind of tried to compartmentalize it and put it away," he said. "It will pop up once in awhile and you just deal with it when it does."

Schnabel spent the summer following the shootings working on a farm, but then moved to Fargo, where he now lives, working at a local manufacturing plant.

Finding a job after the shootings proved difficult at first, but after a while Schnabel decided to see if not listing his work in Medina on the application would make a difference.

Just like that, he "got hired in a minute," Schnabel said.

"I kind of put two and two together," he added.

With each anniversary, feelings of hopelessness, emptiness and a reminder of what Graf calls an "unnecessary tragedy" come flooding in, he said.

As the calendar approaches Feb. 13, requests for information or comment about the shootout often spring up, Schnabel said.

"On one hand you just want it all to go away but on the other hand .... we want to tell people about it," Schnabel said. "We don't mind talking to people who want to know what happened."

But finding people to talk about what happened can sometimes be difficult.

"Nobody talks about it here anymore," Graf said, referring to Medina.

The stigma over what happened in Medina remains in the small town and impacts others around the state, especially the town's former residents.

Jerry Fisher, who was the Medina school superintendent in 1983, says Kahl's name comes up immediately after he mentions he worked in Medina for 18 years.

His response often includes a reminder that Kahl didn't live in Medina, but in Heaton, about 50 miles away.

"Outside people are more interested I think then the people in Medina," Fisher said. "The people in Medina just want to forget it."

But forgetting what some refer to as North Dakota's most notorious crime isn't that easy.

Former Forum reporter James Corcoran, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the shootout and the federal trial that followed, said he still gets emails every now and then about the Kahl incident, especially when similar scenarios arise.

Corcoran, who works as communications department chairman at Simmons College in Boston, wrote a definitive account of the shootout in 1990 with the book, "Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus - Murder in the Heartland."

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, North Dakota's chief federal prosecutor, said he remembers everyone in the area being riveted by the shootout and the events that followed.

But something else that sticks out in his mind are the photos of Cheshire and Muir still hanging in the foyer of the U.S. Marshal Service Office in Fargo.

The photos are a reminder of the losses suffered 25 years ago today that will never be forgotten, Wrigley said.

"It will never fade," he said.

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.