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Retiree who called 911 for man is fatally shot in his north Minneapolis home

  • Article by: JOY POWELL
  • Star Tribune
  • January 31, 2014 - 11:54 PM

Minneapolis police say a north Minneapolis retiree was fatally shot Friday when he opened his home and called 911 for a man who claimed he was being chased by assailants.

The story that the man was being pursued by people with baseball bats apparently was bogus, said police, who have jailed a 20-year-old felon on suspicion of the slaying.

The victim has been identified by relatives as Thomas Sonnenberg, a 69-year-old retired grandfather.

“He was shot in the head,” said the victim’s brother, Darrell Sonnenberg of Minneapolis.

Police were called to the home in the 3700 block of N. Aldrich Avenue at 11:46 a.m. The 20-year-old said people chasing him wanted to kill him, so the victim called 911 for him, said John Elder, a police spokesman.

When police arrived minutes later they found Sonnenberg dead. The suspect was still in the house, and police arrested him, Elder said.

Thomas Sonnenberg’s 68-year-old wife was home at the time, but was believed to be uninjured, Darrell Sonnenberg said.

Police recovered a handgun in the house, and it’s believed to be the murder weapon, Elder said. “My understanding is that it was one shot,” he said.

The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office is expected to officially release Sonnenberg’s identity Saturday.

Elder said the victim is believed to have at least some familiarity with the suspect. The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects until they are charged.

“There was no indication that there were people actually following and attempting to kill him or harm him,” Elder said.

Court records show that the Minneapolis man is on probation for a felony assault in 2011. He was convicted of third-degree assault with substantial bodily harm. He served 36 days and received a stayed one-year prison sentence. He was on three years’ probation, which would have been up next November, state court records show. He also has drug and trespassing convictions.

Elder said police do not yet know why the man wanted to get into the house.

It didn’t appear to officers at the scene that the man was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but he wasn’t tested, Elder said.

Thomas Sonnenberg and his wife have three grown daughters. He was the second youngest of 10 kids who grew up on a vegetable farm in Brooklyn Center, Darrell Sonnenberg said.

“He was a pretty good guy, pretty friendly, pretty nice,” Darrell Sonnenberg said. “Not a tough guy. He took good care of his kids.”

One of Thomas Sonnenberg’s daughters, Rachel Sonnenberg Baufield, posted this comment on Facebook Friday:

“My DAD was cruelly taken from me and my family today. Please pray for justice for him and wish him to be at peace! I loved him very much! The world will be a much sadder place without him in it.”

Joy Powell • 612-673-7750

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