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DNA results point to owner of severed fingers found in East Grand Forks

EAST GRAND FORKS - The mystery of the severed fingers in the East Grand Forks park seems to have been solved. Police have DNA results pointing to the owner of two severed fingers found in May on a picnic table at a Red River State Recreation Area...

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DNA results point to the owner of two severed fingers found on a picnic table at a Red River SRA campsite in May. The digits came from a man involved in a fireworks accident in downtown Grand Forks about a month earlier, E.G. Forks Lt. Rodney Hajicek said in a news release. It is unknown how the fingers ended up on the East Grand Forks side of the Red River, but the state lab noted possible beak marks in the flesh. “The theory is a bird found them and took them over here.” BrainerdDispatch.com Illustration

EAST GRAND FORKS - The mystery of the severed fingers in the East Grand Forks park seems to have been solved.

Police have DNA results pointing to the owner of two severed fingers found in May on a picnic table at a Red River State Recreation Area campsite, according to a news release. The digits came from a Grand Forks man who was involved in a fireworks accident in downtown Grand Forks about a month earlier, East Grand Forks Lt. Rodney Hajicek said in the release Thursday.

“We’re satisfied with the conclusion of it,” East Grand Forks Detective Tony Hart said. “It wasn’t … the result of an act of violence. It was just a mistake.”

The accident victim, identified in a police report as 24-year-old Mackenzie Steele, attempted to light the fuse of a 2-inch mortar round and place it inside a launch tube in the early hours of April 30 at 100 N. Third St. in downtown Grand Forks. He then held “onto the base of the launch tube after deliberately igniting the fuse,” police said in the report. Steele set the tube down and held onto it to prevent it from falling, but the firework exploded, causing the tube to explode into small fragments of shrapnel, the report stated.

The shrapnel severely injured Steele’s hand, resulting in the complete or partial loss of his left palm, wrist and fingers, including his ring and middle fingers.

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Police at the time were concerned with his safety, Lt. Derik Zimmel said, adding Steele probably wouldn’t be charged with having fireworks within city limits. North Dakota court records indicate he was not prosecuted.

Several weeks later, Melissa and Monty Atkinson told the Herald they were setting up camp at the Red River State Recreation Area in East Grand Forks when their 6-year-old child found two fingers on a picnic table. The Minnesota state crime lab determined they were a middle and ring finger from a left hand attached by skin from a palm.

“At the time it was reported, we had a lot of theories, but it turned out to be just the result of an accident,” Hart said.

Hajicek speculated the fingers may have belonged to the man involved in the firework accident.

It is unknown how the fingers ended up on the East Grand Forks side of the Red River, but the state lab noted possible beak marks in the flesh, Hart said.

“The theory is a bird found them and took them over here,” he said.

The lesson from the incident is that fireworks are dangerous and should be handled properly and with care, Zimmel said.

As for the mystery being solved, “it’s always good to finally have an answer,” he said.

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