It started as an affront at a weekend party in St. Paul. Then high school-age guys involved decided to settle things in a midnight brawl Saturday at an Apple Valley park, police said.

Egged-on by more than a dozen friends, several Apple Valley-area teens got the better of three guys from the northern suburbs.

But one of the three pulled a gun and, seconds later, a bullet ended the life of Shawn Ferber, 17, of Eagan. Ferber's friends called police, who intercepted them as they drove him to a hospital, said Capt. Craig Anglin.

Police arrested two 18-year-old men from Blaine and Ham Lake on Sunday night and are looking for at least one more suspect. The two men are in jail; charges could come today.

Anglin said that no gang or drug ties appear to be involved and that no weapon has been found.

"I suspect it was a core group that set up a meeting to settle their differences, and it spun out of control," Anglin said. "You'd like to see them work things out, at the most by knocking around."

Unfortunately, weapons get involved these days, he said. "Guns and kids are a bad combination."

Police are interviewing the 12 to 20 teens who had gathered in Huntington Park, at Diamond Path and Pilot Knob Rd., where Ferber was shot about 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

"We are trying to sort out who was there and what their role was," Anglin said.

Ferber was a junior at the School for Environmental Studies, located next to the Apple Valley Zoo. He had previously attended Eastview High School in Apple Valley, where he was a top wrestler and weight lifter, said his mother, Susan Ferber. He liked telling jokes at family gatherings and "couldn't say no to anybody," she said. He was a member of a student group against drunken driving and a mentor for younger kids at their church, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran, she said.

"He was my best friend," said Ryan Raymond, 17, who played football and participated in track with Ferber. He was very religious and had a cross tattooed on his arm, Raymond said.

Memorial by a tree

Raymond stood among about 20 other students at a memorial of balloons and messages they set up Monday for Ferber by a tree near the shooting scene in Huntington Park. Raymond was involved in the fight late Saturday, but he declined to discuss it.

Jessica Pugh, 17, said she mentored younger kids at the church with Ferber.

"He had a really great heart," Pugh said, tearfully.

A letter from Eastview High School to parents said: "The most important thing parents can do is to be supportive and encourage discussion about the event and the feelings to which it gives rise."

Ferber's parents, Susan and Dan Ferber, released a statement saying that their son "knew firsthand the struggle of growing into adulthood. No matter how much love and support a young person has, no one is safe from the consequences of choices. We know Shawn's strong faith in Jesus Christ provided an anchor in this life and the hand that has brought him into the next."

The death was the city's third homicide in five years, Anglin said. He noted that Huntington is a quiet neighborhood park and that this is the first fatal shooting in any Apple Valley park that he could recall in his 26 years with the city.

"It is a tragic situation, the result of poor choices on everyone's part and some poor judgment that led up to this," he said. "It didn't have to happen."