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Teri Swanson talked about her son Spencer at their home in Chaska while comforting her 8-year-old son, Sajen.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Teri Swanson showed a picture of sons Spencer and Sajen at her home in Chaska. For Teri Swanson, a winter supposed to be filled with celebration is now filled with heartbreak.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Mother grieves loss of son, fate of friend who shot arrow

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • October 27, 2012 - 7:54 AM

As Teri Swanson mourns the loss of her 16-year-old son, she also grieves for his longtime friend who shot the arrow that killed Spencer as he rode his bike in their Chaska neighborhood.

"I know this child. He's already tortured," she said. "He's got to live with this the rest of his life in a much different way than we do."

This week, she let the boy, also 16, privately say his goodbye after Spencer's funeral. It's what her son would've wanted. But it's empathy tempered by the fact that she also hopes a police investigation into the unusual incident brings "the truth and peace."

"It's a really, really hard thing to think about," Swanson, 51, said about possible criminal charges before breaking into tears: "This is just a mess."

Police said they won't release details about the Oct. 13 incident until the investigation is closed and the case is sent to the Carver County attorney to review.

The attorney representing the 16-year-old shooter, Marsh Halberg, has said the arrow ricocheted off the ground in a "tragic accident" that didn't involve horseplay. Police challenged that statement this week, saying the investigation doesn't support Halberg's version, though "nothing has been revealed to indicate intent."

'I love you. Be safe.'

Eleven years ago, the Swansons moved to the quiet Chaska cul-de-sac, drawn to the safe, multicultural community. The neighborhood, full of young families, watched each other's children grow up. Since they were 6, Spencer and his friend joined other neighborhood kids, playing games when they weren't in school or Spencer wasn't being home-schooled.

It was a close-knit community. When Teri Swanson was diagnosed with colon cancer last February, neighbors stopped by to help. When she got a positive prognosis last month, they celebrated around a bonfire.

Yet the protective single mother of three repeated to her sons each time they ducked out the door: "I love you. Be safe. Make good choices."

No parent's protection could have saved Spencer as he sprinted out the house, got on his bike and rode a block away to meet his friend. Moments later, his friend shot the arrow that struck him in the head, leaving him hospitalized for two days before he died.

It's the first known fatality in modern-day Minnesota of an arrow striking another person. "I can't think of any other" similar case," said Capt. Mike Hammer, who heads the Department of Natural Resources' enforcement safety training. He added that, unlike hunting shotguns or rifles, bow hunting is a close-up sport that usually means shooting less than 25 yards away from a target. "We don't have accidents of bow hunters hitting other hunters."

Archers doing target shooting don't need a license in Minnesota; restrictions are limited to city ordinances. In Chaska, discharging weapons, including bows, is a misdemeanor.

In 36 years with Chaska police, Chief Scott Knight said he's never had a case like this.

'Outpouring of love'

For Teri Swanson, a winter supposed to be filled with celebration is now filled with heartbreak. After battling cancer, she had planned a special trip with her sons this winter to celebrate being cancer-free. "We're going to move forward," she said she told them. "And then this."

Again, her neighborhood has come forward to help, bringing meals or raking leaves. At Spencer's funeral on Monday, the Victoria church filled with 300 friends and family members, bowling teammates and Chaska classmates who remembered Spencer for more than the tragedy that ended his life but the life he lived as an outgoing teen with a contagious smile, a natural athlete, a role model to his 8-year-old brother, Sajen, and an aspiring filmmaker.

"It was the most emotional service I've been to," said family friend Carol Benedict of Minneapolis. "There was such an outpouring of love."

A YouTube video Spencer made this summer showcasing his neighborhood, school and teenage life was shown at the funeral. It featured several friends, including the friend who shot him.

"We're all dealing with this," Teri Swanson said. "We're a small community, and this has rocked my community and further [away]."

It also also has rocked her family's life. In the months Teri Swanson was in treatments for cancer, Spencer had helped her with her courier business. Now, the loss of her son, the loss of work and her home in foreclosure means the family's future is uncertain.

A fund has been set up to help the family. His school, Integrated Arts Academy in Chaska, is also planning to plant a tree in his honor on the school grounds later this year.

It's overwhelming, communitywide support for his mother as she struggles to cope with Spencer's death.

"It's painful; my heart is broken," Swanson said. "I've lost my baby."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib

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