Grieving and nursing injuries from shotgun pellets and flying glass, a wary Jennifer Cleven returned Wednesday to the New Brighton home where her boyfriend of 18 years had been gunned down.
“This place is not my home any more. It’s a death house,” she said, her voice choked at times by sobs. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. … I have nowhere to go. My life has been uprooted so bad.”
At almost the same time as Cleven described a nightmarish shotgun ambush of 46-year-old Todd G. Stevens that had been years in the making, Neal C. Zumberge was being charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in Ramsey County District Court.
“He just kept shooting and shooting,” Cleven said, sitting a few feet from the front steps where Stevens fell dead outside the house on Knollwood Drive Monday night. “He kept on shooting after [Todd] was down.”
The fatal violence culminated tensions between the couple and the Zumberge family going back 15 years, which had intensified in recent years over Cleven and Stevens feeding deer and other wildlife in their yard.
About a year ago, things had gotten so bad she had sought, and was given, a restraining order against Zumberge, which was still in force for another 13 months.
She said she had called the police dozens of times over the years, but that officers always explained that they needed witnesses before they could take action against her menacing neighbor.
“I’m very frustrated. When the police got here Monday, I was yelling ‘Are you happy? Are you happy now? Todd’s dead, and you never did nothing,’ ” she said. “What does a restraining order do? Nothing.”
Zumberge’s 23-year-old son Jacob had been arrested two hours before the shooting, about a week after he and the couple had a confrontation at a bar in Spring Lake Park.
The charges suggest the rage behind what appears to have been a tipping point, with Zumberge’s wife, Paula, egging him on as he sprayed the stunned couple with buckshot as they tried to scramble for cover. “Shoot, shoot, shoot, keep shooting,” Zumberge’s wife allegedly said as he fired a 12-gauge, semiautomatic shotgun at his neighbors.
The first appearance for Zumberge, 57, was continued until June 4. He remains jailed in lieu of $1.5 million bail and was ordered not to contact Cleven and to stay away from her house should he be released. Zumberge’s attorney, Adriel Villarreal, declined to comment afterward.
Attempts to reach the Zumberge family Wednesday were unsuccessful.
“Today’s charges detail what can only be described as a senseless and tragic fatal shooting in our community,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a written statement. “As this investigation is ongoing, we will let the complaint speak for itself at this time.”
Stevens was shot several times in the head, chest, abdomen and extremities, according to the complaint. Cleven, 48, was treated at Hennepin County Medical Center and released Tuesday.
According to the complaint filed Wednesday: Cleven had run into Jacob Zumberge Monday evening at the Acapulco Restaurant in New Brighton. She called the police because he was wanted for an April 29 incident in which he threatened to burn down the couple’s house. Jacob Zumberge believed that their habit of feeding deer in their yard caused his father to contract Lyme disease.
In a sad twist, she said, Jacob Zumberge and her son, Ryan, were close friends growing up. “He was over here all the time,” she said, and they included him in family outings.
Jacob Zumberge was charged Wednesday in Anoka County District Court with two felony counts of terroristic threats and one count of misdemeanor fifth-degree assault. He remains jailed in lieu of $100,000 bail.
According to that complaint: Cleven and Stevens were playing bingo on the evening of April 29 at the VFW in Spring Lake Park when Jacob Zumberge approached the couple at the bar and appeared to be intoxicated.
Jacob Zumberge soon asked Stevens to step outside to continue a conversation. Once outside, Jacob Zumberge began yelling and crying, prompting other bar patrons to ask him to leave the premises. Stevens went back inside.
Jacob Zumberge then re-entered the bar and walked up to the couple, shoving Stevens in the back and nearly knocking him off his bar stool. The son then “leaned in between” Stevens and Cleven and threatened to “burn down their house and kill them.”
After Jacob Zumberge’s arrest, Cleven returned home and was confronted by Paula Zumberge, the charges said. “You [expletive] [expletive], you put my son in jail,” Paula Zumberge allegedly told Cleven.
Stevens came out to investigate, though Cleven had told him to stay inside.
Authorities believe that before the fatal shooting, the elder Zumberge had slipped out of his basement through an egress window with a loaded shotgun, firing it at his neighbors until it emptied. Four spent, 12-gauge shotgun shells were found near Stevens’ front door, according to the complaint.
“ ‘He shot me.’ Those are the last words he said to me,” said Cleven, who said her sister had also been a murder victim, at age 17. She met Stevens in 1996, shortly after moving to Minnesota from Texas. “My life is done without him,” she said. “He was such a good guy.”