The small southeastern Minnesota town of Lake City is in mourning this weekend over the death of police officer Shawn Schneider, shot in the head early last week during a domestic call.
A spokeswoman from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester said Schneider died about 5:30 p.m. Friday at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.
Schneider, 32, a nine-year veteran of the Lake City Police Department and a father of three young children, and a well-known figure in the picturesque river town of 5,000, was shot in the head while responding to a domestic dispute on the morning of Dec. 19.
Alan J. Sylte Jr., 25, of Hager City, Wis., an Iraq war veteran who was being discharged from the Wisconsin National Guard, shot Schneider as the officer was helping Sylte's 17-year-old ex-girlfriend escape from the house on Lyon Avenue. After a several-hour standoff and a tense lockdown of Lake City schools that lasted into mid-evening, Sylte was found dead in the house of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
The hospital released a family statement that read, in part: "We are very sorry to report that Officer Shawn Schneider of the Lake City Police Department died earlier this evening. ... The family thanks everyone for their overwhelming support and well wishes during this difficult time."
In addition to his work in Lake City, Schneider also worked part time for the Wabasha County Sheriff's Office. Last week, Sheriff Rodney Bartsh described him as somebody police chiefs and sheriffs wanted on their staffs. Friendly and outgoing, he "absolutely knew how to do the right thing," Bartsh said.
Bartsh said last week that he had been worried about Schneider's recovery and had witnessed the small community of Lake City taking Schneider's situation just as hard.
"It gets difficult for people when they are stopped by [law enforcement officers], and we sometimes get a lot of negativity coming back toward us," he said. "In times of crisis, when things are at their worst, the community rallied around us in a very overwhelming way."
In a Facebook post last week, Mark Schneider of Plainview, Minn., Shawn's uncle, wrote, "The Christmas tree is beautiful and the house is ready for festivities ... but there is only one thing we are praying for every minute of the day and night."
Schneider was responding to a domestic dispute involving Sylte when he was shot. According to court documents, Sylte had sent 282 text messages to the girl before fighting with her inside her family's rented house. Sylte, who was being discharged from the Wisconsin National Guard, had been trained in the use and creation of explosives as a combat engineer, according to court documents.
The girl may have narrowly escaped the gunfire. She told authorities that as she headed toward the police officer's vehicle parked out front, she heard gunshots and "felt two rounds go by her," according to a search warrant application filed in the case. When she turned around, she told them, she saw Schneider fall to the ground.
Authorities said a fellow Lake City officer risked his own life to rescue Schneider and move him away from the house. Officers rushed Schneider to the hospital in a police car, deciding not to wait for an ambulance.
Several fundraisers and vigils have been held for Schneider and his family, including a gathering in Lake City last week attended by more than 1,000 people.
'It hits everybody'
At Bronk's Bar & Grill, a popular pub in the heart of Lake City, owner Erik Brunkow said the Friday night crowd was greatly subdued upon hearing of Schneider's death.
Brunkow's grandfather was Lake City's police chief the last time there was a homicide in the town, he said. "It hits everybody, because these things aren't supposed to happen in a small town," he said.
Brunkow said he feels particularly sad for Schneider's family because his oldest child is a classmate of Schneider's oldest child. "I just try to put myself in his wife's situation," he said. "I just can't imagine it."
Contributions to help Schneider's family can be sent to Alliance Bank, c/o Kathy Moyer, 105 E. Lyon Av., Lake City, MN 55401.
David Chanen • 612-673-4465