Central Minnesota Rocked by Violent Crime in Recent Weeks
ST. CLOUD — Residents in Central Minnesota have had their small towns and sleepy neighborhoods rocked by a string of violent crimes usually thought of as “big city” problems, or something that only happens “someplace else.” Thursday's shooting and killing of a Cold Spring police officer is just the latest in a deadly period. The numbers are almost hard to believe — six people dead in five separate incidents — all in just the past four months.
It began with the stabbing death of 68-year-old South St. Cloud resident Geraldine Bennett on August 23rd. Her 40-year-old son, Chad Pulju, has been charged with second degree murder. Authorities say Pulju stabbed his mother multiple times in the face, neck and arm.
Next was the random act of violence that took the life of 20-year-old Colton Gleason. He was in town visiting friends on September 20th, when authorities say Jesse Smithers got out of a car in an alley in south St. Cloud, punched Gleason once in the face, then took off. Gleason fell to the ground and hit his head. He died a few days later. Smithers is facing murder charges.
The residents of Rockville were awakened to the sounds of gunshots and a manhunt early Sunday morning, October 21st. Twenty-eight year old Marcus Barshaw is accused of coming to Rockville from Walker, confronting 30-year-old Jeffery Schutz, then shooting him in the back six times. Barshaw himself was injured when police shot him. He's facing first degree murder charges.
A story that's sparked a lot of debate not only in Central Minnesota, but across the country, is the shooting and killing of two teenagers who allegedly broke into a Little Falls man's home at noon on Thanksgiving day. Sixty-four year old Byron Smith has been charged with two counts of second degree murder for killing 18-year-old Haile Kifer and her cousin 17-year-old Nicholas Brady. Smith admitted to deputies that he shot both of them as they were walking down his basement stairs. He shot both of them multiple times, then failed to call police. Their bodies were discovered the next day.
And the latest tragedy this past Thursday when 31-year-old Cold Spring Police Officer Tom Decker was responding to a welfare check of a suicidal man. Authorities say he was ambushed by 34-year-old Ryan Larson who shot him twice in the head.
Six people's lives cut short. Five people behind bars facing murder charges. And authorities left wondering, when will the violence come to an end?