Reader reaction to the July 17 article on Michael Swanson -- and the failed attempts to help him before he shot and killed two convenience store clerks in Iowa -- has centered on two issues.
First, there's been frustration over the opportunities that were missed by mental health and county juvenile justice authorities to intervene more forcefully during the years when Swanson abused drugs and committed various thefts and other crimes. Swanson has now been sentenced to life in prison. His mother said she believes he should have been in residential mental health treatment on the night of the murders if earlier probation terms against him had been followed.
Second, how did a teen with a violent history get his hands on a gun? It's a question to which Swanson's mother, Kathy, is sensitive, because the family went to great measures to seal off firearms. So here are some more details, according to mother Kathy Swanson:
-- On the fateful November 2010 evening, her son stole her jeep and cash card from their home in St. Louis Park. His father's hunting rifles were in the house, but were locked in a safe. Normally, his father stored them in a separate, locked location, but they were at home because he had just returned from a hunting trip.
-- Swanson then drove 250 miles north to the family's cabin, where he encountered his grandfather (who is deaf) sleeping in a chair in the living room. Swanson then stole food and water from the refrigerator and found his uncle's loaded handgun and an unloaded rifle laying out in a bedroom. (Note: this is corrected information from the original story, which indicated that Swanson took a shotgun.) Normally, those weapons would be stored in a locked cabinet underneath the bed, but they were laid out to dry as the rifle had gotten wet during a snowy hunting outing.
Just prior to the Nov. 15 killings, there had been concern about Swanson's access to weapons. An official at the Hennepin County Home School, where Swanson had been detained until November 3 for prior offenses, had expressed concern after hearing that Swanson might be allowed to go on a hunting trip with his father, according to county records. Swanson's parents clarified prior to their son's discharge that he would not be allowed to go along.
Kathy Swanson later said in an interview that one of her other two sons would have been nervous being around Michael while he had a weapon. Because Michael had not been on the hunting trip, his uncle had felt safe leaving the guns out to dry.
Kathy Swanson said little to nothing to the press after his son's arrest and during his murder trial. She spoke to the Star Tribune, though, in the hopes that her son's story could motivate change.