Thanksgiving Day Horror: Minnesota Teens Killed in Alleged Break-In
Matthew DeLuca on two teens who were killed and their bodies left for a day after an alleged break-in.
On Thanksgiving Day around noon, Byron David Smith was sitting in the basement of his home on eight acres of land in Little Falls, Minn., a woodsy town of about 8,000 people, when he thought he heard intruders moving around upstairs.
How Smith, 64, ended up killing two teenagers in cold blood that day, as he later told police, is laid out in icy detail in a criminal complaint filed in the state’s Seventh District Court on Monday.
Smith, who was worried the intruders might be armed, waited quietly downstairs with a Mini-14 rifle, a semi-automatic carbine, in his hand, according to the complaint, which details what he told police. He had a .22-caliber revolver strapped to his body, he said. He heard a window break, and later he showed police officers a broken window in his bedroom. He listened to footsteps above him, on the first floor of the house. Then he saw someone walking down the stairwell into the basement, where he sat, and a pair of legs became visible. Then he fired. Twice.
The person he shot was Nicholas Brady, a 17-year-old who also used the last name Schaeffel. Brady was looking up at Smith after he fell down the stairs. Smith, who has been reported to be a former security officer for the U.S. State Department, told police he shot Brady in the face.
The reason? “I want him dead,” Smith told officers.
Smith put Brady on a tarp and dragged him into a basement workshop, leaving the body there, he said. Then he went back to his seat. He waited.
It took a few minutes, but soon another pair of legs came down the basement stairs. It was Haile Kifer, a gymnast and diver for Little Falls High School. Smith told police he fired as the 18-year-old girl’s hips appeared. She too fell down the stairs. Smith’s Mini-14 jammed. Kifer laughed up at the man who would kill her. That made him mad, he said, even though it was only a short laugh because she was in so much pain.
“If you’re trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again,” Smith explained to police as his logic for what he did next. Smith said he shot Kifer in the chest with his .22-caliber revolver, not once but several times. That was “more shots than I needed to,” Smith later told police.
Kifer was still alive. Smith dragged her over to where he had left Brady’s body. The young woman gasped for air. Smith had a solution for that—what he later called “a good clean finishing shot.” He placed his gun underneath her chin and fired it “up into the cranium.”
Smith said he acted out of fear. He was afraid Brady or Kifer might have a weapon. Minnesota state law allows homeowners to defend themselves and their property if they believe they are in danger. Smith acknowledged to police that neither of the two teens in his home had a weapon.
The two bodies remained in the basement of Smith’s home overnight. The next morning, Smith seems to have become worried about how his actions might affect him. He called a neighbor on Friday and asked him if he knew lawyers, according to the complaint. Smith didn’t call the police, he later said, but asked the neighbor to call them. That call was placed at 1 p.m. on Nov. 23.
Officers arrived at Smith’s home, where he showed them the bodies of the two teens in his basement. He was arrested. Appearing in court in Morrison County on Monday morning, Smith was charged with two counts of unpremeditated murder in the second degree. Bail was set at $2 million.
“Mr. Smith intentionally killed two teenagers in his home in a manner that goes well beyond self-defense,” Morris County Attorney Brian Middendorf said on Monday.
Many questions remain unanswered in the town of Little Falls, where Kifer worked at the Falls Cinema, according to her Facebook page.
Brady had never been in any serious trouble before, his older brother Nathan Schaeffel told The Daily Beast.
Smith had no prior convictions, according to a database managed by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. His brother, Bruce Smith, however, told the Star Tribune that the Little Falls man was on edge because of seven prior break-ins at his home in previous years.
Mary Swanson, a supervisor at the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office, said that on Oct. 27, Smith called to report a burglary in his home. That was the only incident the sheriff’s office ever had that originated at Smith’s residence, Swanson said. According to the report from that time, Smith left his home at 11 a.m. and returned at around 6:30 p.m. to find his home had been broken into, he told police. He called police seven minutes later to report that $9,200 worth of cash and gold coins had been taken, along with two guns worth $200 apiece, $3,000 in photography equipment, and a $300 ring.
“Nothing came of it,” Swanson said. “They investigated and basically they were kind of at a dead end.”
Schools in the town have been offering “extensive counseling services and grief support” to students who request it, said Stephen Jones, Little Falls superintendent of schools. The two victims were cousins, he said, and they had both gone to Little Falls High School until the beginning of this year, when Brady transferred to Pillager High School.
Friends of the two teens held a vigil at the local high-school football field on Sunday night.
The students organized the candlelit gathering on their own, without school officials, Jones said. It was a quiet event.