Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When violence touches your life June 2, 2022

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I see grief in the grey tile, part of a “Love Remains” mosaic displayed on the exterior of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. Barb Larson, a Chamber employee, was murdered there in 2016, shot to death by her ex-husband, a former Faribault police officer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I HAD A MUCH DIFFERENT POST planned for today. But then the identity of a homicide victim was released by the Rice County Sheriff’s Department and my focus shifted. I knew the 41-year-old man shot to death in neighboring Morristown early Tuesday morning. A suspect was arrested at the scene and has been charged with second-degree murder.

The victim, Brian, grew up two blocks away, where he and his sister lived with their grandparents. The siblings attended the same Christian day school as my children. The pair were older. On the occasional days the school bus didn’t run, their grandpa would stop to pick up my girls and all four kids rode to school together.

Much time has elapsed since then. Yet, I remember Brian, his short, slim frame and reddish hair. Many years have passed since I’ve seen him out and about walking around Faribault, always wearing a backpack. I have no idea what he did in life, but that connection to him and his family all those years ago means something. My heart hurts for his sister.


This isn’t the first time homicide has indirectly affected me. In May 2004, the father of a close friend was murdered. In May 2010, the sister of a blogger friend from Duluth was murdered by her ex-husband. In May 2013, a former neighbor’s daughter and unborn baby were killed by their husband/father.

Violence has touched my life too many times.


In May 1999, a SWAT team swept through my neighborhood searching for a knife used in the stabbing death of a 19-year-old some two blocks from my house.

On another occasion, a breathless young man showed up on our doorstep one evening, pleading for us to let him inside. Randy and I refused, not wanting to put ourselves or our family in danger. Instead I called 911. As I begged the police to hurry, a group of men rounded the corner of our house obviously looking for the guy at our door. That they didn’t dash up our front steps and attack him still surprises me all these years later. The potential for violence was real. Eventually law enforcement arrived and left with the young man safely inside a squad car.

And then there was the middle-of-the-night awakening to a woman across the street screaming for help. Screaming for someone to call 911, which I did. Again, I urged officers to hurry. Eventually police arrived as did an ambulance. I never learned what happened on that night all those years ago, only that no one died.

When I count all of these violent acts to which I have been indirectly exposed, I consider the number high. I expect most of you have never known a murder victim (or a murder victim’s family) or had to call 911 to report a crime in progress. I’m thankful if that fits you.


I’ve learned a few things through these experiences. I’ve learned that, no matter who you are or where you live, violence can touch you personally. And when it does, you find the strength, the resolve, the ability to do something. That may mean making a 911 call. That may mean showing up with food and a hug and doing anything you can to support a friend. That may mean mailing an encouraging card, phoning, texting, emailing. Remembering. For those families who’ve lost loved ones to acts of violence, remembering is vitally important. Their lives are forever changed and they need our love and support.

These are my thoughts today as I consider how violence has, once more, indirectly entered my life.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A must-read report: Murders due to domestic violence in Minnesota in 2017 February 1, 2018

Photos of victims released with the 2017 Femicide Report. Source: Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

THE 2017 FEMICIDE REPORT: Domestic Homicide Violence in Minnesota is out. This year in my state, 24 people lost their lives due to domestic violence, according to this report released by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

Of those, 19 were women murdered by current or former intimate partners. The other five were family members/friends/interveners.

Senicha, Dawn, Jessica, Phanny, Sarah…

Slightly more than half were shot, the rest beaten, strangled, stabbed and killed by other methods. Their stories break your heart. These were women (and two men) who were loved and valued in their families, their communities, their workplaces. They are not simply statistics.

Please take time to read this report by clicking here. Beyond data, you will see the victims’ faces and learn of the circumstances related to their murders. You will read also about the “Red flags for batterer lethality” and findings and recommendations from the MCBW. At 44 pages, it’s a lengthy report packed with plenty of valuable information. But it’s well worth your time if you care about this issue, and you should. It’s vital that we are educated and aware. These are our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our nieces, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers.

We cannot, must not, remain silent.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. The time period in which a woman is leaving or has just left her abuser is the most dangerous. Have a safety plan in place. Reach out to a local women’s advocacy center for help. Or start by talking to a trusted family member, friend, co-worker…you are not alone.

Please also click here and read an article by Bob Collins at MPR about a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that toughens the state’s Domestic Abuse Act.


Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling








2016 Femicide Report: The stories, the stats, the call for action in Minnesota January 31, 2017

The 2016 Femicide Report and

The 2016 Femicide Report and a guide from the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial, both projects of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.


This information about Barb Larson's murder was displayed with a personalized t-shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by and courtesty of Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Cooridnator.

This information about Barb Larson was displayed with a personalized shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator.

Names of 21 known domestic violence homicide victims, including that of Barbara Larson from my community, are printed within those pages. She was shot to death on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

An index lists section titles like Homicide Statistics, Red Flags for Batterer Lethality, Findings & Recommendations, Our Charge to Minnesota Communities, Victim Stories

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul takes the podium. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell speaks. Schnell received a 2016 MCBW Inspire Award “as a community ally for improving law enforcement responses to victims of domestic and sexual violence.” Photo by Erica Staab.

This comprises the 2016 Femicide Report released Tuesday morning by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. It is a document packed with statistics, facts, names, stories, educational information and recommendations all related to domestic violence homicides in Minnesota in 2016.

I challenge each of you to read this document by clicking here. It matters not whether you live in Minnesota, half-way across the country or on the other side of the world. If you read this report, you will better understand domestic violence, how it affects all of us and how you can make a difference.

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of all 21 individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of 21 known individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson is pictured on the left, second photo from the top.

Be forewarned that the victim stories, especially, are difficult to read. But those are necessary to put a face to this violence, to provide clarity, to effect change. This needs to be a collective effort.

HOPE Center staffers and Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson in honoring her memory. The family is holding the personalized t-shirt designed in Barb's memory for The Clothesline Project.

HOPE Center staffers Erica, left, Olivia, Sandra and Nikki, right, along with Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson’s family in honoring Barb during the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial. The family holds the personalized shirt created in Barb’s memory for The Clothesline Project. Photo courtesy of Erica Staab.

I am especially grateful for places like HOPE Center, offering support to victims/survivors of violence (and those who love them) in Faribault and throughout Rice County. HOPE staffers participated in the MCBW’s Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday in St. Paul as did a captain from the Faribault Police Department.

This The Clothesline Project t-shirt honors Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

A closer look at The Clothesline Project shirt honoring Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

Rather than attempt to summarize more of the 2016 Femicide Report, I leave you with this strong statement published in the Foreword:

Victims deserve to be believed, to be heard, and to be safe in their homes and in public. We still need to invest in resources, effective interventions, and in accountability measures that are victim centered, including prevention efforts. We can also work to end these homicides by being a resource ourselves for victims; as their family members, friends, faith leaders, employers, teachers, and neighbors. Services provide necessary tools and support, but it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

Allow me to highlight what I perceive to be particularly important words in that paragraph: believe, accountability, victim centered and prevention.

And finally: …it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

TELL ME: How is your community tackling domestic violence? What are you doing to make a difference?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“She loved the man who shot her…” February 17, 2016

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

My sister was in love. She loved the man who shot her after running her down like an animal hunted for sport. This didn’t happen in a day or even a week or a year.

It happened slowly over the years with little hints of control…

Dear readers, please read these words and more on a GoFundMe page set up to cover funeral expenses for 28-year-old Trisha Nelson. This southern Minnesota native was killed on February 12 “in a horrific act of domestic violence” in Plymouth. Trisha is our state’s second known victim of domestic violence in 2016.

Tanya Fure writes her sister’s heart-wrenching story, with this advice:

I’m begging that if you are even thinking you might be in an unhealthy situation—SEEK HELP.

Tanya’s words are powerful as she now becomes the voice for her dead sister. The sister whose ashes she will now bury and scatter. By sharing her sister’s story, Tanya hopes to give others the strength to leave unhealthy relationships and to live. Free. Untethered from those who control and manipulate and abuse. And sometimes kill.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship or even think you are, seek help. You are so worth it. Contact a local crisis resource center or women’s shelter for help and support. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time; have a plan to leave safely. Additional information is available, for abuse victims, family, friends and survivors by clicking on any of these links:
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (Gifts to MCBW are suggested by the family in Trisha’s honor.)


An “end of innocence” & my thoughts after a deadly shooting in Wisconsin May 4, 2015

UPDATE THREE, May 6: A Facebook page, Hands Over the Fox, has been set up to unite the people of the Fox Valley in the aftermath of the tragic shootings. A National Day of Prayer Trestle Trail event is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the site of the tragedy. Click here to learn more about this community gathering to remember, demonstrate compassion and show strength. Attendees will gather on the Trestle Trail Bridge for 15 minutes of prayer. A potluck meal will follow at Fritse Park.

UPDATE TWO, May 5: A Go Fund Me website has now been established for the family of shooting victim Adam Bentdahl to help them deal with the financial burdens related to his death. Click here to support this family. I just learned of Minnesota connections. Adam was born on August 21, 1983, in Mankato, Minnesota, which is 40 miles from my community of Faribault. He has family (a grandmother in Hanska and a brother in White Bear Lake) in Minnesota.  Click here to read Adam’s obituary.

UPDATE, May 5: Calvary Bible Church in Neenah, Wisconsin, has set up a Stoffel Family Love Offering. Click here to see how you can support and donate to this family as they deal with the tragic deaths of Jon and Olivia. 

An edited image of a Wisconsin lake, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

An edited image of a Wisconsin lake, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I AWOKE TO A NIGHTMARE so vivid this morning that I can still feel the icy waters of the black lake suffocating, pulling my second daughter and me into her deep, dark depths. We are dropping farther and farther from the surface, sinking to our deaths while I cry for my daughter to let go because it is the only way I can save her. Even though I cannot swim, I am determined to reach the surface.

But she won’t release me, no matter how I plead and scream. I gasp for air. My wool pea coat weighs and tightens around me like a straightjacket. My girl still clings to me. There is nothing I can do. And then I awaken, feeling the need to suck in air. I am so shaken by this dream that I don’t even tell my husband about my nightmare.

Hours later my phone bings with a text from my daughter: “There was a shooting in Menasha last night.” She lives in nearby Appleton, works in the medical field in the Fox Valley region of eastern Wisconsin with her office based in Menasha. I text and ask if I can call. She calls me.

Four are dead including gunman Sergio Daniel Valencia del Toro, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran and college student, who reportedly randomly opened fire Sunday evening on people crossing the Fox Cities Trestle Trail bridge. A 33-year-old father, Jonathan Stoffel of Neenah, and his 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, are dead. Their wife/mother was shot multiple times and remains hospitalized in critical condition. Two other children in the family were unharmed.  Adam Bentdahl, 31, from Appleton was also killed. The shooter shot himself. There were 75-100 people in the park/trail area at the time of the shooting.

This is the type of tragedy that stuns you, that hits especially hard when your daughter tells you she has used this very trail, when you’ve dreamed only hours earlier of drowning with that dear daughter in a cold, dark lake. There is no logical connection, of course, between my nightmare and the tragic shooting in Menasha. Still, the coincidence raises goosebumps.

Today I feel a profound sense of sadness that a young family and a young man simply out for a Sunday evening walk should suffer such loss at the hands of a man who’d reportedly just argued with his ex-fiancee. I don’t understand this type of unprovoked violence. Why?

At a news conference on Monday, Dr. Ray Georgen, director of trauma services at Neenah Theda Clark Medical Center and on duty Sunday evening, spoke of young mother Erin Stoffel’s arrival with three gunshot wounds, life-threatening injuries that required immediate emergency surgery. But I was struck most by Dr. Georgen’s statement that the random shootings mark “the end of innocence” for the Fox Valley region. Menasha Police Chief Tim Styka later concurred, saying that “Times have kind of caught up to us in the Fox Valley.” Violence like this can happen anywhere, he explained. Now it’s happened in his community in eastern Wisconsin.

The two also emphasized the heroism of Erin Stoffel. Despite three gunshot wounds, she got herself and her two surviving children, ages five and seven, off the bridge. That act, Dr. Georgen says, shows the power of the human spirit, of a mother determined to protect and save her children. What strength. What courage. What love.

FYI: A Go Fund Me fundraising site has been set up for the Stoffel family as Erin, Ezra and Selah deal with the deaths of their loved ones.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling