Families of murdered teens break their silence after verdict in Little Falls

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2014 - 11:15 AM

Relatives welcome verdict but mourn deaths and the “little things” they will miss.

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The families of two slain teens broke their long silence Tuesday to offer tearful thanks to the jury that ruled that the deaths were murder, not something justifiable.

“My son was a tremendous kid,” said Kimberly Brady, whose 17-year-old son Nick was shot to death last Thanksgiving. “I think often of what he could have been. I see other young men with their moms and it’s really, really difficult [to think that] I never will have that chance again.”

Brady and his 18-year-old cousin Haile Kifer “died horribly,” she said. For days, the families sat in the courtroom and listened to graphic testimony about their final moments, when they were shot — again and again — by Byron Smith, the man whose house they were trying to rob. On Tuesday, a jury ruled that Smith’s actions went far beyond self-defense, into first-degree murder.

“I just can’t believe someone’s physically capable of doing that to two teenagers,” said Brady, who listened to recordings of Smith calling the teens “vermin,” and shooting again as they lay wounded on the floor. “I had to get up every day and look at the man who shot my son and my niece. And I don’t believe he felt remorse. That alone would have been something, but I don’t believe he felt that.”

The family agreed among themselves not to speak out before or during the trial, not wanting to do anything to endanger the verdict, Steve Schaeffel said. Now that the verdict was in, they said, they felt free to talk about the kids they had loved, and lost.

“We lost an amazing young lady,” said her aunt, Laurie Skipper. “She was a beautiful girl and it was so senseless what happened. And we are going to forever miss her and there’s nothing we can do to get her back. It’s a tragedy. A senseless tragedy.”

“He had a good heart,” said Bonnie Schaeffel, ready to share story after story about her grandson — the boy who was building a pirate ship to sail on the river with his uncle, the boy the family teased because he scared so easily, the boy with a soft spot for underdogs.

“If someone was being picked on, Nick was there to help the underdog. He was growing up. He was a kid … We love him. It was just a huge, huge loss.”

Compounding the families’ pain was the fact that the teens died while doing something senseless and criminal themselves — breaking into an old man’s house.

“I think he was getting a little bit off track,” said Bonnie, who was expecting him for Thanksgiving dinner on the day he died.

“I would have wanted him to have consequences. His family would have. Haile’s family would have … He screwed up. [But] I know him in all his heart … he wasn’t out to hurt anybody.”

Steve Schaeffel, thanked local law enforcement and others in the community for supporting the family “through some really, really, really difficult times.”

“That has been what has got us through this horrible, horrible tragedy,” Schaeffel said, choking up. “There are no winners in this … He took away something that can never be replaced.”

In the long months leading up to the trial, Bonnie Schaeffel said, the grief would catch her at unexpected moments. She’d be in the supermarket and spot a jar of pickles, and be overwhelmed by the size of her loss.

“It’s the little things that kind of sneak up on you,” she said. Nick used to try to sneak pickles into the cart when they shopped together.

“I knew he was doing it. He knew I knew he was doing it. But it was kind of a little game and those pickles were usually eaten before we got home — the whole jar.”

She paused, fighting tears.

“I miss that kind of stuff.”

Jennifer Brooks • 612-618-2310

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