Mpls. clergy reach out to ease fear after good Samaritan slaying

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2014 - 9:30 PM

Pastor says neighbors of a slain good Samaritan are afraid to open their doors.

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Thomas Sonnenberg, a 69-year-old retiree, was fatally shot last Friday inside his Minneapolis home in the 3700 block of Aldrich Avenue N. Area pastors hope to go out and ease fears in the neighborhood.

Photo: JIM GEHRZ • jgehrz@startribune.com,

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The slaying of a good Samaritan has left his north Minneapolis neighbors so fearful that clergy members plan to take to the streets within days, knocking on doors and assuring people that they’re supported.

The Rev. Harding Smith said people are telling him that they’re afraid to open their doors — should anyone come seeking help or shelter — in the wake of the execution-style slaying of retiree Thomas Sonnenberg on Jan. 31.

“We want to let the community know that they don’t need to be afraid,” said Smith, of the Spiritual Church of God. “This was a cowardly act. A senseless act. And we are very, very saddened by the loss of this good Samaritan who gives his life to protect someone.”

Sonnenberg, a 69-year-old Army veteran, was shot shortly after he opened his back door to a stranger who claimed people were chasing him and trying to kill him with a baseball bat. Police later said the suspect appeared paranoid and in distress.

After firing one shot that killed Sonnenberg, the suspect, Devon D. Parker, then attacked Sonnenberg’s 68-year-old wife, who was saved by a Minneapolis police officer, court papers say.

Parker, 20, of Minneapolis, is in the Hennepin County jail, charged with second-degree murder.

Court papers say the gun came from a holster on Sonnenberg’s right hip.

His daughter, Rachel Baufield, said her father was shot between the eyes as her mother watched.

“I’ve been bothered by this killing,” Smith said. “It has really rocked me to the core. We want to tell the community that we are not going to give up helping people.”

Police are investigating accounts that Parker, who was on probation for a previous assault, had been at a nearby house before he ran out after some type of disturbance and then went to the back door of the Sonnenbergs’ home nearby, in the 3700 block of Aldrich Avenue N.

‘We have to take the lead’

The couple’s neighborhood had grown increasingly violent over the years, Baufield said. Her parents had been burglarized and vandalized, but they couldn’t move away because they were underwater on their mortgage, she said last week.

Even with the swift arrest of Parker, the heinous nature of the slaying shook people, Smith said. He hopes that within a week, the pastors will take to the streets, possibly with supporters from anti-crime groups.

“We have to take the lead, as clergy, as community leaders,” the pastor said. “We will have signs. We will be going door to door. We will be talking to neighbors. We will let them know that we, as a community, are going to come together.

“This is a terrible thing that happened, but we are going to find strength in all of this.”

He’s seeking to reach out to the family as well and to bring together varying members of the community — from parents to teachers to police — to help turn around an area in which good people have taken to staying inside and deadbolting their doors, as the Sonnenbergs had done.

The community must fight the ideology of some young people involved in deadly violence who have taken on “a prison-style mentality and want to hold the community hostage, and commit these murders, and no one can speak out because they fear for their lives,” Smith said.

“We want to put the community at ease. This is not the way we should be living.”

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