Deadly break-in raises fears

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS and DAAREL BURNETTE II
  • Updated: July 27, 2011 - 7:10 AM

After murder charges were filed in a homeowner's killing, police reassured a Minneapolis neighborhood.

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Minneapolis police Inspector Lucy Gerold listened to a question from Mike Miller, left, at a community meeting Tuesday about Shea Stremcha’s slaying.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Shortly after two men were charged Tuesday with murder and burglary for allegedly breaking into a south Minneapolis man's home and shooting him in the heart, about 100 neighbors gathered at a local park to mourn the loss and prevent future attacks.

"We've always been like a suburb embedded in the city," said Sharon Boswell, a 19-year homeowner in the Longfellow area. "Real life has come to Longfellow."

According to second-degree murder and first-degree burglary charges filed in Hennepin County District Court, Robert Emmanuel Shelby, 27, of St. Paul and Semaj Williams, 21, of Brooklyn Park, broke in Shea Stremcha's home on July 20. Stremcha, 25, who was home with his fiancée, confronted the intruders with a knife and was shot in the heart.

On Tuesday, Minneapolis police Inspector Lucy Gerold reassured residents gathered in Brackett Park that violent crime in the area in the past month had gone down at least 66 percent compared with July of last year, thanks to a strong police and community partnership.

"This is a very very rare crime and a very, very unique situation to happen in this neighborhood," she said.

But residents said the weekend killing capped a six-month string of car thefts, houses tagged with gang graffiti and loud firecrackers going off through the night. "To have this happen is just overwhelming," said Brendan Perry, a 15-year homeowner in the neighborhood. "There are just too many unsolved questions. If there's any silver lining, there's definitely a more heightened sense of awareness in the community."

Gerold, flanked by an officer and City Council Member Cam Gordon, told residents they will see more police in the coming weeks and urged them to call 911 if they see unusual activity.

"We need your eyes and ears to catch criminals," Gerold said.

In the case of a burglary, lock your door and call 911, she said. Don't confront the intruder.

According to the charges filed against Shelby and Williams:

Police were called at 3:10 a.m. to Stremcha's home in the 2900 block of 45th Avenue S., where they found him shot in the chest and not breathing. Blood was pooled around his body, and a large knife was near his left hand.

Police noted an open side door with a shattered window.

Stremcha's fiancée told police that they were asleep in the bedroom when she was awakened by breaking glass. She woke Stremcha, who grabbed the knife from a table next to the bed and went to investigate. She told police that she heard a loud gunshot and a yell from Stremcha. She saw him fall to the floor in a hall and ran to him. She applied pressure to the wound and called 911.

Police noted that a motion sensor on a corner of the house's detached garage had been set off. They found blood drops leading from the side door steps to the alley behind the house. A police dog unit tracked the blood trail to E. 29th Street before stopping near a curb on Dorman Avenue S.

Shelby was arrested July 20 on an unrelated felony warrant and had a bandage on his left hand, the charges said. He received stitches for a deep cut to his left index finger. Authorities learned Tuesday that the blood matched Shelby, the complaint said.

Williams was arrested July 21. When police questioned him, he admitted to being in the area of the shooting that night but could not explain why his fingerprint was inside the house, the complaint said.

Both men are in the Hennepin County jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

Stremcha, a 2008 graduate of St. John's University, and his fiancée had moved into their home within the past year, neighbors said. Stremcha worked at Ameriprise Financial in Minneapolis.

Perry, who worked with Stremcha, said he knew him to be a motorcycle enthusiast and a cheerful presence.

"To have this happen to him is just an absolute shock," Perry said.

Longtime friend Alex Albers said last week that he wasn't surprised that Stremcha would confront intruders. "I know Shea; he kept a knife by his bedside if anybody were to ever intrude," Albers said. "He was a very tough kid. I have a feeling he fought to the end."

asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921

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