An annual New Year’s Day party in White Bear Township ended in tragedy Tuesday when a man carrying three firearms fatally shot his younger brother, then himself — the township’s first homicide in recent memory.
Authorities say up to 20 relatives, ranging in age from kids to the elderly, had gathered at the family matriarch’s house to celebrate the holiday when shooting broke out. Larry Klimek, 54, of Minneapolis was killed with his 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter nearby, their mother said Wednesday. The boy called 911 to report that his uncle had shot his father, who was bleeding inside the home, according to emergency dispatch audio.
“They got out as soon as they could,” said Sonya Zuker, the teens’ mother and Klimek’s ex-wife. “They’re managing,” she said. “We have a strong support network.”
Dispatchers identified the alleged shooter as Lee Klimek, 56, who lived in the house with his 76-year-old mother. Family members confirmed the identities of the two brothers.
Zuker declined to comment on Larry Klimek’s relationship with his brother or to say what led to the violence.
A Ramsey County sheriff’s SWAT team responded to a call of shots fired inside a home in the 5400 block of Centerville Road at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday. They found people fleeing the premises, said Cmdr. John Eastham. One witness told police that the suspect was armed with a shotgun, rifle and handgun, according to dispatch audio.
The SWAT team cordoned off the block and tried to communicate by phone and loudspeaker with the gunman. Officers then deployed mobile cameras in the house.
After two hours with no response, officers swept the property and found the brothers dead inside.
A family member said Larry Klimek was still alive when the others fled the house, fearing Lee might come back up the stairs and continue shooting. That relative lamented Wednesday that authorities waited too long to enter the house and provide medical assistance.
Sheriff’s spokesman Randy Gustafson defended the decision, saying storming the house immediately might have put officers in danger. “The protocol is to protect life,” he said. “Once they were able to approach safely, then they did.”
Lee Klimek shot his brother and then himself in an apparent murder-suicide. Preliminary reports that he also killed the family dog were untrue. No dead animal was found in the house, Gustafson said.
It remains unclear whether the firearms used in the crime were registered to Lee Klimek. Minnesota state law does not require gun registration and permitholder data is considered private information.
“We’re in the process of verifying all of the facts,” Gustafson said. The Ramsey County medical examiner conducted autopsies.
Tributes for Larry Klimek poured onto social media. “He didn’t deserve this,” wrote his eldest daughter, Stephanie Klimek. “He was an amazing family man, fun guy.”
Larry Klimek had worked as a train and bus operator at Metro Transit for the last five years, where colleagues say he’d become a beloved member of the agency’s new mentorship program. He was among the first to volunteer when the program launched last fall.
“It really shows his character,” said Brian Funk, deputy chief operations officer for bus transit. “It’s a tough thing for co-workers to lose somebody — especially someone like Larry, who had such a calming presence.”
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.