An off-duty Elk River police officer and his son were shot and killed in a home in St. Michael, and one of the officer’s other sons was arrested, officials said Sunday.
The Wright County Sheriff’s Department said officer Todd Besser, 49, and his oldest son, Blake, 27, were killed in a “domestic situation” Saturday evening.
The killings occurred in a house in the 4500 block of Mayfield Avenue, according to authorities. Arrested in the killings was Christopher T. Besser, 21, the youngest son and a resident of the home.
Christopher Besser will be charged Tuesday morning in District Court, said County Attorney Tom Kelly, who intends to hold a news conference once the criminal complaint is filed.
Elk River Police Chief Ron Nierenhausen said Besser was a 16-year veteran of the force who just completed a four-year stint as a liaison officer in the city’s public schools.
Besser had “just gotten done with work about 6 p.m.” and the shooting “took place within 45 minutes,” the chief said.
Police said they were sent to the residence at 7:06 p.m. when they received a 911 call from a “male party” at the Besser residence. When they entered the home, they found Blake Besser in the kitchen dead from an apparent gunshot wound. The elder Besser was found in the basement, also felled by an apparent gunshot wound.
The home was occupied by three Besser sons — their father had remarried and was living in Otsego. The mother of the sons no longer lived there.
Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty said Sunday that “the public is not in danger.” No other suspects are being sought.
Authorities have not addressed the circumstances leading up to the killings.
The Sheriff’s Office and the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office continue to investigate, and “we will be working with the Wright County attorney’s office” on Monday concerning possible charges, the sheriff added.
Christopher Besser surrendered to authorities at a convenience store in nearby Monticello at approximately 7:45 p.m. Saturday after he called the Wright County Sheriff’s Office Communications Center. He told police he wanted to turn himself in and was apprehended without incident.
Next-door neighbor Jeff Mastro said he was hanging out in his garage with a friend Saturday about 6:30 p.m. and heard a loud noise.
About five to 10 minutes later, he said he heard a second even-louder noise that “sounded like a garbage truck in the street dropping something. It didn’t sound like a gunshot.”
After another 15 minutes, the area was surrounded by police, who emerged from their cars, guns drawn. They yelled at the Besser house, a two-story white clapboard home with a neatly tended lawn. Police advised Mastro to close his garage door and go inside his house. A helicopter flew overhead.
He said the Bessers were quiet and “nice neighbors.” Todd Besser appeared to live in the home part-time, he said, and would arrive periodically to tend the lawn. Another neighbor noted that Besser “was very particular about his lawn.”
The neighborhood “is really kid-friendly; we know our neighbors, the kids can roam and we watch out for one another,” said Mastro’s wife, Erin. “Everyone is shocked.”
The Mastros have lived in their Mayfield Avenue house for 14 years, and they said the Bessers have lived next door for at least as long.
The housing development, called Highwoods, features a series of winding streets with two-story houses featuring expansive yards, many with swing sets. A playground sits at the end of Mayfield, which is near several cornfields.
Tim Nylen, another neighbor, said he didn’t know the Besser family. “They really kept to themselves,” he said. He said about 20 to 30 people surrounded the police tape last night, peering at the crime scene.
According to police radio traffic posted Saturday night on the website MN Police Clips, a dispatcher relayed this information to officers: “Male party states his brother shot him in the chest.”
Soon after, the dispatcher reported: “Sounds like the phone dropped. I can hear moaning or breathing sounds.” The phone line remained open, but the caller made no more sounds.
Officers began a search for a car reportedly driven by the suspect, later identified as Christopher Besser, but cut short the search when the suspect phoned and agreed to turn himself in. He walked into the Qwik Stop on Broadway in Monticello and asked for a phone, said Kelcie Pumarlo, who was on duty as the store clerk. Pumarlo said the man, whom she described as being 18 to 20 years old, didn’t act as if anything were wrong.
“I gave [the phone] to him, and he took it outside,” said Pumarlo. “I had no idea who he called. It was during a big rush, and I had quite a few people here during that time.
“Then my customer was like, ‘What’s going on outside?’ And that’s when I turned and looked. I saw two cops pointing their guns, and the kid lifting up his shirt.”
A police dispatcher said the suspect stated during his phone call with police that “he also did injure his father.”