The shocking news began spreading late Tuesday in St. Croix Falls, Wis., and by Wednesday it was all over the river town: Peter Kelly was dead, the victim of a stabbing after dark following an argument between anglers on opposite sides of the St. Croix.
Kelly, 34, died moments after he was stabbed about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday during a confrontation at Interstate Park with three young men with whom he and a friend had been trading increasingly heated words across the river while fishing for three hours.
It was hard enough to think that such a thing could happen in St. Croix Falls, but it was impossible to believe “it could happen to such a good human being,” said Dan Clark, a lifelong friend who had coached him on the St. Croix Falls High School wrestling team.
“I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what would cause this to happen, but I can say with 150 percent certainty that it wasn’t because of something that Pete did.”
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office asked the public’s help in finding the three men, said to be in their late teens or early 20s and traveling in two vehicles with Minnesota plates: a blue Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck and a small to midsize passenger car.
A dog named Gunner, described as either a golden retriever or a yellow lab, was said to be in the pickup.
Authorities also were looking for five people in the area about 7:30 p.m. who may have seen the jousting that led to Kelly’s death.
In the meantime, stunned residents of the town of 2,100, about 55 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, were mourning Kelly, “a great kid in the community” who had grown up there, was raising five young children and had contributed countless hours as a volunteer youth and high school coach in wrestling, football and baseball.
By Thursday afternoon, a GoFundMe website for Kelly’s family ( gofundme.com/s7y8rg4 ) already had raised more than $48,500. Kelly worked in quality control at Andersen Windows in Bayport while his wife, Christie, stayed at home to care for their children, all under age 9.
“It’s a really big tragedy in St. Croix Falls, a huge loss for our community,” said Sonya Fry, owner of the Dalles House Restaurant.
The confrontation began about 6:30 p.m., when Kelly and a friend were fishing on the Minnesota shore. At some point, they began arguing with three fishermen on the opposite riverbank, authorities said.
The dispute continued to escalate until Kelly and his friend crossed to the Wisconsin side to confront the others. A “brief physical confrontation” ensued, and Kelly was stabbed with a knife.
The three men immediately fled, authorities said.
Fishing was one of Kelly’s favorite pursuits, along with hunting and wrestling. He would often go to work at 4 a.m. so he could get back in time to coach before dinner, Clark said.
“For somebody who’s 34 years old and working 50 hours a week and has five kids, the amount of time he gave back to the community was unbelievable,” he said.
The high school wrestling banquet Wednesday night was canceled. Kelly had helped coach most of the town’s young wrestlers, Clark said.
Anyone with information was asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 1-715-485-8300.