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Little Falls shooting: A tragic situation

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That’s a word that has been used a lot in the last week as people describe the shooting deaths of Little Falls area teenagers, Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer.

And it is tragic.

Tragic that Byron Smith, admittedly shot the teens in his own basement — according to law officers’ reports — as the pair was allegedly attempting to burglarize his home. Tragic that Mr. Smith sits in a jail cell now awaiting trial. It’s tragic that two young lives were cut short because a string of erred judgments. Tragic that the younger generation of Little Falls will always remember the 2012-2013 school year as the one when they lost two of their classmates. Regardless of the circumstances, they have felt a deep sense of loss way too young.

It is tragic.

I spent Thursday afternoon in Little Falls trying to get a sense of what people are saying — how they are coping with this tragedy, as many described it, that weighs so heavily on their little town.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected to find, but I guess it’s fair to say I was a little surprised at what I did find in Little Falls.

It was quiet, almost subdued. People were friendly, but not real forthcoming with their thoughts or even their names for that matter. People were nice enough, but it was obvious that there isn’t this brewing controversy in the town that there seems to be surrounding it in the media and social network conversations as everyone outside Little Falls does their best to speculate.

I walked the streets of downtown for a while. It was cold out so I stopped for some coffee. I talked to one man who said simply, “It’s just sad no matter how you look at it.”

Another person said, almost as if they were thinking out loud, “They were all wrong.”

There wasn’t any talk of who was guilty or who wasn’t.

People were quiet and unless I broached the subject, there was very little talk at all about the incident at Smith’s house Thanksgiving Day.

I visited with Carlyle Olsen, who works in downtown Little Falls and also moonlights as a volunteer with the local Kiwanis Club. Olsen contacted our office Thursday afternoon to let us know that Little Falls School District superintendent Stephen Jones had spoken at the Kiwanis Club Thursday. Jones talked about the shooting and how it affected students at the high school — many of whom can’t help but imagine themselves in the same circumstances. “These kids are going to deal with this all year long,” Olsen said. “When you’re 17, 18 years old you’re kind of bulletproof.

“They are coming to terms with their own mortality.”

I asked Olsen if I was imagining the subdued attitude I was feeling and he assured me it was real. “It’s unusually quiet,” he said. “I think everyone is a little bit in shock.”

Olsen said, contrary to the claims of some media outlets there isn’t a whole lot of controversy stirring when it comes to the opinions of most Little Falls residents. “There are no sides,” Olsen told me. “We’re just dealing with the tragedy that occurred.

“It was just a tragic situation all-around.”

Olsen said Jones expressed to the Kiwanis Club students, as he had countless times to the media, that the desire of the school district is to handle the issue with “solemn respect.”

That seems like an appropriate description for what I felt as I walked the downtown corridor of Little Falls — solemn respect.

The community of Little Falls will say goodbye as the two young teens are laid to rest Saturday, Dec. 1, but I hardly think that means closure for the town with media still buzzing around and Smith’s trial likely to be months away from starting.

For now, though, it seems like Little Falls will get through — even it takes a while. It’s that small town mentality. People move forward, and they do it together.

Even in the midst of tragedy.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.