A funeral for the two teenagers who were shot and killed on Thanksgiving Day will take place in this central Minnesota town Saturday morning.
Byron Smith, a 64-year-old retired State Department security engineer, told police he shot Haile Kifer, 18, and Nicholas Brady, 17, after the teenagers broke into his home.
A quiet sadness hung in the cold night air as hundreds of people came to remember the teens at a wake Friday night in Little Falls. Groups of high schools students were among those came, some wearing their purple and white letter jackets. Others locked arms as they walked up to the Emblom Brenny funeral home.
Michael Lyter, a junior at Little Falls High School, said he used to ride the same bus to school as Kifer and ate lunch with Brady.
"It's quite shocking. We actually get on Facebook and hear that your friends have just passed away. It's hard to deal with. It's terrible," Lyter said.
Tori MaGee, who was Kifer's partner in anatomy class last year, said, "She was a lot of fun. We had to do a test together. We didn't do the best on it, but we tried our best."
The week since the cousins were killed has yielded more questions than answers. On Monday, police charged Smith with second-degree murder.
But on Wednesday police announced new details that linked Kifer and Brady to a separate burglary that most likely took place the night before they were killed. According to police, prescription pills bearing the homeowner's name were found in the car driven by Brady. The pills were used to treat the homeowner's diabetes.
Police were also investigating a break in that took place at Smith's residence in October. According to a police report from the Morrison County Sheriff's Office, a deputy met with Smith about the case on Nov. 16 -- the week before he shot the teenagers. According to the police report, a camera worth $3,000, two guns and $500 in cash were stolen from Smith's house on Oct. 27. Kifer and Brady are not suspects in that burglary.
On Thursday, Minneapolis attorney Steve Meshbesher announced Smith had retained his legal services.
Smith's neighbor Carol Wendland said she has had only a few conversations with Smith and did not hear anything the day the teenagers were killed.
"I don't know how to think about this. I really don't," Wendland said. "I don't really know the facts, and how can you blame anybody if you don't know actually what did happen."
Traci Munson of St. Cloud does not know the family but showed up at Friday's wake to express her sympathy.
"A lot of kids go through a phase like that where they're just bad. They're just breaking all the rules, and they just do that for awhile, but then eventually turn around," Munson said. "These kids will never have that chance. It's a big hole for those family members right now."
One relative, Rodney Bartkowicz, said he remembers Kifer and Brady as "generally really good kids."
"I know there's a lot of anger right now because of everything that's happening," Bartkowicz said. "I know there's a lot of ... questions why it had to end up like it did. And I don't believe they'll ever really get a true answer, even in the courts."
The funeral service for Brady and Kifer will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Living Hope Assembly of God Church, 17389 Haven Road, in Little Falls.
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