MADELIA, MINN. – It’s not uncommon for residents in this southwestern Minnesota town of 2,300 people to leave their doors unlocked or their cars running when making a quick stop at a local store.
Madelia is the kind of place, as one resident put it, where “you can dial a wrong number and still wind up talking to the person for half an hour.”
Which made it all the more shocking for many here Monday when they learned that a local farmer now faces criminal charges in the shooting death of a teenager who allegedly trespassed on his property early Saturday.
David A. Pettersen, 65, was charged Monday in Watonwan County District Court with second-degree manslaughter and intentional discharge of a firearm in connection with the death of Nicolas T. Embertson, 19, of Madelia.
Pettersen, who suspected that someone was breaking into his house after he heard a commotion on his deck, shot at the car Embertson was driving as it left his property, killing the teenager, according to the criminal charges.
“It’s damn tragic,” said Dennis Freitag, who tends bar at the local American Legion. “One young man lost his life, and another man is fighting a struggle in the legal system. You don’t expect it here.”
News of the shooting, the arrest and the criminal charges signaled a somber start to what was to be a joyful week in Madelia, which on Friday will mark the anniversary of a fire that devastated the downtown business district. Main Street is in the process of being rebuilt, and residents hope that by later this summer, all merchants will be back in place, closing what was once a gaping wound along the thoroughfare.
But residents said the latest incident will leave scars of its own in this prairie town about 100 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.
“A lot of lives will be touched by this,” Freitag said.
The shooting took place after Embertson and two other teenagers — Kyle T. Nason, 18, of Sleepy Eye, and Cornelius Ayers Jr., 18, of Madelia — went to the Pettersen home about 7 a.m. Saturday to “case” it for a burglary.
According to the criminal complaint:
Embertson and Ayers boosted Nason onto a deck, where Pettersen, after hearing the commotion, confronted him. Nason told police that he then jumped from the deck to the ground about 10 feet below, breaking his ankle.
Once the teenagers got back to their car and began driving away, Nason said, he heard two loud bangs and Embertson say, “I think I’ve been hit.”
Embertson, who was driving, lost consciousness and the car went off the driveway. At that point, Nason took over behind the wheel.
Pettersen, meanwhile, told authorities that he was in bed when he heard someone trying to open a door. He looked out a bedroom window and saw someone on his deck. He said that’s when he confronted the person later identified as Nason.
Pettersen then looked out his kitchen window and saw Nason crawling toward the car. Pettersen got a .45-caliber handgun and as he left the house through the garage, saw the car pass by within about 10 feet of him.
He fired two or three shots as the car went by, and told authorities that he was aiming for the front driver’s side tire. He then went inside, called 911, and remained at the house.
While en route to Pettersen’s house, a deputy stopped the car with the three teenagers inside. Embertson, who had suffered a gunshot wound, was pronounced dead a short time later at the local hospital.
Teens could be charged
While the law allows for the “justified taking of a life if your life or your family’s life is in danger,” Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Nachreiner said Monday, “what we gathered from evidence and statements was that [manslaughter] was the appropriate crime.”
Watonwan County Attorney Stephen Lindee said it’s possible that Nason and Ayers could be charged for their roles in the incident.
Petterson appeared in court Monday morning and was released without posting bail after agreeing to several conditions. Among them: He cannot possess or use firearms, and he must stay in Minnesota unless given permission to leave.
Back at his house, two women who said they were Pettersen’s daughters stood watch outside the home, politely asking the news media to leave the area. The house, an imposing, modern structure a few miles outside of Madelia, sits on a heavily wooded bluff overlooking the Watonwan River valley.
“We’re just protecting our father,” one of the women said.
Meanwhile, Embertson’s former girlfriend, Amber Branham, said simply, “He didn’t deserve this.”
Branham said Embertson was within two credits of graduating high school and described him as someone who was “up for anything. ... We’d find walking trails like the ones at Nerstrand State Park [southeast of Northfield]. He’d randomly want to go to Perkins at 2 a.m. if neither of us could sleep. ... He was just an adventurous kind of man.”
Court records show Embertson had been convicted of more than a half dozen misdemeanor traffic and drug charges.
As Madelia struggled to come to grips with the shooting, resident Bridget Hayes said there are “a lot of prayers out in the community for everybody.
“It’s tragic, and a lot of families are affected,” she said. “What we need to focus on is, somebody lost their son. Being a mom and having a 21-year-old, your heart just breaks.”