A 21-year-old St. Michael man, angry with his father’s expectations of him, said he “just lost it” before loading a hunting rifle and killing his father and brother Saturday night in the family home, according to murder charges.
Moments after shooting his father, an Elk River police officer, in the back of the head, Christopher T. Besser allegedly killed his brother in the kitchen with the same weapon and walked out as the gravely wounded older sibling was on the phone with police.
Besser appeared Tuesday in Wright County District Court in Buffalo to face two counts of intentional second-degree murder in the deaths of Todd Besser, 49, and Blake Besser, 27. County Attorney Tom Kelly said he will seek first-degree murder charges from a grand jury.
During the hearing, Assistant County Attorney Brian Lutes alleged that Christopher Besser carried out “an execution-style killing of his father and brother.” Bail was set at $2 million with conditions.
Gwen Besser, Todd’s wife, sat in the courtroom along with about a dozen other family members as a shackled Christopher Besser was led in. Wearing green jail garb, he kept his eyes off his family and appeared to be choking back his emotions.
Afterward, Gwen Besser said to the news media, “All I am asking for is prayer, healing, grace and forgiveness.”
Besser was arrested at a convenience store in nearby Monticello late Saturday, less than an hour after his father and brother were shot in the home in the 4500 block of Mayfield Avenue in St. Michael. While at the store, he called 911 and explained what he did, according to the criminal complaint.
“I ended up killing my father and brother,” he said to the dispatcher, the complaint read. “I just lost it.”
He said he was fed up with his father, who had “expected things of him,” the charges continued, without offering specifics about those expectations.
Besser said he shot his brother because he didn’t want to leave a witness to their father’s death, according to the charges.
As officers drove Christopher Besser from the store to jail, the complaint noted, he asked a deputy whether his brother had survived. “I’m guessing not,” the complaint quoted Besser as saying. “I sympathize with the fact that I did that.”
Under questioning later that evening by investigators, Christopher Besser said “he was processing events and issues from the past while on the couch in the living room,” the criminal complaint read. “He just snapped and went to the gun cabinet.”
At a news conference Tuesday, prosecutors said the father had just finished his work shift and had his service pistol strapped on his hip when he was shot.
Christopher Besser had been drinking before using his hunting rifle to kill his father and brother, Kelly added.
Police have been called to the home previously, prosecutors said, including once for a suicide attempt, although they did not say whom it involved.
Two young women also live in the house — family friend Ashley Elowson and Laure Zumbusch, Blake Besser’s girlfriend. Neither was at home during the shootings. Todd Besser had moved out and was living with Gwen in Otsego. The sons’ mother also lives elsewhere.
“I’m very, very close to the whole family,” said Elowson, 21. “I called them my brothers.”
Elowson said she was closest to Christopher Besser “and Todd, of course,” but she added there’s nothing she can recall that hinted at the tragedy to come.
“They all loved each other dearly,” Elowson said. “This was a huge, huge shock.”
Blake Besser’s girlfriend “is having it even harder than me,” Elowson said.
Dying brother calls 911
The complaint details the defendant’s moment-by-moment recollection of the killings as shared with investigators:
Todd Besser came home and had a confrontation with Christopher in the garage. The father went into the house, and Christopher then did the same.
Christopher Besser took the rifle from the gun cabinet and loaded it. He walked downstairs and saw his father sitting at a computer. Todd Besser began to turn his head toward his son, and Christopher shot him while standing about 4 feet away.
Christopher then walked up to the kitchen and sat down, resting the rifle between his legs. Blake Besser entered the kitchen, and Christopher raised the rifle and shot his brother in the lower torso.
The defendant wiped the fingerprints from the gun and walked past his dying brother, who was on the phone with police.
It was that phone call from Blake Besser that first alerted authorities to the bloodshed. Blake told the dispatcher that his brother had shot him and was leaving the home. During the 911 call, “Blake Besser drops the phone and appears from sounds captured during the call to be in the process of actively dying,” the complaint read.
Sheriff’s deputies found Blake Besser dead, seated with his back against a kitchen cabinet, the charges said. They soon found Todd Besser’s body downstairs.
One funeral for both
Another brother, 24-year-old Derrick Besser, was not home. He was headed back to Minnesota on Tuesday from his military post overseas.
Todd Besser was a 16-year veteran of the Elk River police force who had just completed a four-year stint as a liaison officer in the city’s public schools. He grew up in Hermantown, Minn., served in the Air Force and was a Washington County corrections officer.
A funeral service for Todd and Blake Besser will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Elk River High School, 900 School St. The public is invited to the service, which will begin with visitation at the school from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., followed by the funeral in the school gym.
After the service, a law enforcement procession with family, officers and community members will make its way to Orono Cemetery in Elk River for a burial service for Todd Besser.
Blake Besser’s private burial is scheduled for Monday.
A memorial fund has been established in officer Besser’s name at the Bank of Elk River, 630 Main St., Elk River. It is the only official memorial fund.