Facing down fear left by slaying of good Samaritan in north Minneapolis

Pastors led effort to knock on north Minneapolis doors and say: “We cannot allow fear to rule us or take over.”


Pastor Harding Smith, left, led a group in prayer Thursday to “claim our neighborhood back from fear and mistrust” when a good Samaritan opening his door was killed Jan. 31 in his home. Two by two, people went door to door on the border of the McKinley-Camden neighborhoods, talking to residents and handing out cards with information about how to report crime anonymously.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

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When the doorbell rang Thursday afternoon, the young father pulled back the window curtains and peeked nervously, leaving his north Minneapolis door locked. “What do you want?” he asked.

On the stoop was Pastor Linus Nyambu, who with another man was there to assure residents that they have support and help in a neighborhood marred by gun violence.

The two were among about 20 clergy members, anti-violence advocates and a police lieutenant who took to the streets to urge residents on the border of the McKinley-Camden neighborhoods to watch over one another and work with police to make their area safer.

The father in the window, William Hibbler, said he’s had long-standing fears since moving to the area two years ago. They were heightened on Jan. 31 by the slaying of a retiree who opened his door to a man begging for help, only to be shot moments later. A suspect is jailed in lieu of $2 million bail, charged with second-degree murder.

That slaying was the catalyst as well for organizer Pastor Harding Smith and Nyambu, of the Spiritual Church of God, for the door-knocking walk. In pairs, they knocked on doors, spoke with residents and carried placards proclaiming “We will not live in fear.”

“We are Americans,” Nyambu told Hibbler, 26. “This is the land of the free, the land of the brave. We cannot allow fear to rule us or take over our lives.”

That gave Hibbler pause to reconsider whether he still wants to move his family out of the neighborhood, where they’ve lived for about two years in the 3400 block of Bryant Avenue, often hearing gunfire, he said.

Slain good Samaritan Thomas Sonnenberg, 69, and his 68-year-old wife had lived only a few blocks away, in the 3700 block of Aldrich Avenue N. They also feared for their safety after being hit with burglaries and vandalism, their daughter has said.

Thursday, Nyambu urged Hibbler to not give “the upper hand” to criminals by leaving homes empty.

Police on hand, too

Those who walked a 12-block area Thursday found some residents insisting they felt safe and others always bolting their doors. Minneapolis police Lt. Michael Friestleben was on hand, saying he was glad that Smith had invited him to the event and others aimed at curbing gun violence.

“His goal truly is to get the police and community united, and that’s certainly our department’s primary goal — community engagement,” the Fourth Precinct lieutenant said.

“The message they were sending is, the neighbors have to look out for each other to keep our neighborhood’s safe.”

Nyambu and others handed out cards with contact numbers for people to call to report or text information anonymously. Without that kind of help from tipsters and witnesses, the lieutenant said, killers and other thugs can too often get away.

Making people aware that an arrest had been made in Sonnenberg’s slaying also brought comfort, and many expressed appreciation for the visits, said Heather Martenz, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about gun violence.

A 20-year-old Minneapolis felon with a history of violence had allegedly pleaded with Sonnenberg to let him in, saying people were trying to kill him. He asked Sonnenberg to call 911. But suspect Devon Parker grabbed the phone and directed police to a bogus addresses a block away, then snatched a gun from a holster on Sonnenberg’s right hip and shot him, court papers say.

Suspect in court in 2nd case

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  • Feb. 4: Suspect was due in court the day of slaying

    Tuesday February 4, 2014

    Homeowner Thomas K. Sonnenberg, a 69-year-old retiree, was shot in the head with his own handgun, accordiing to charges against 20-year-old Devon Derrick Parker.

  • Feb. 2: Good Samaritan’s last act led to his death

    Monday February 3, 2014

    Thomas Sonnenberg was known for helping others. Friday, a man who asked for help killed him.

  • Resident Dorian Beal, left, talked with Smith.

  • Sonnenberg

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