Searching for solace and safety

The Kingfield community tries to move forward after the bewildering murder of a mother and her son.

KINGFIELD — Children played and neighbors chatted in their front yards as cars slowed and bicyclists paused near a cluster of deflated balloons, wilted flowers and an orange Teddy Bear outside a duplex draped with police tape.  

Laying in the makeshift memorial outside 3639 1st Ave. was a torn and weathered flyer advertising a vigil held several days earlier for Katricia Daniels and her 10-year-old son Robert Shepard, who were found brutally murdered in the house June 12.

More than a week after the incident, Kingfield community members remained bewildered, angry and heavyhearted, but not defeated. Along with an outpouring of support for the victims’ family and friends came a unified message to any wrongdoers: not in this neighborhood.

Homemade yard signs with messages such as “we all need to heal as a community” and “RIP Robert” stand near others emblazoned with the message “our block is watching.” 

“We started this up because everyone on the block was feeling pretty outraged about the situation,” said Rod Taylor, who has an “our block is watching” sign in his front yard on the 3600 block of 1st Avenue. “So we wanted to make people aware that we’re keeping an eye on what’s going on.”

A block away, the murders triggered Diana Schleisman to organize a block meeting to discuss the incident and other safety concerns in the neighborhood.

“I thought people might need more healing or might need to talk about it more,” she said.

Schleisman said she had just met some of the people at the meeting the previous day and was eager to get the block meeting more regularly, which is the plan moving forward.

Meeting attendee Rick Pearson, an area landlord who lives on the 3600 block of 1st Avenue, said he’s normally a private person, but the deaths of Daniels and Robert shocked him enough to get engaged with his neighbors.

“I’ve been here for nine years and heard this was called coke alley 12 years ago, but I thought it had really cleaned itself up,” he said.

Melanie Maxey, a meeting attendee who lives with husband Vince on the 3700 block of 1st Avenue, said she would like to see more resident policing of the neighborhood. She said she recognized Stafon Thompson and Brian Flowers — the two 17-year-olds charged with stabbing Daniels more than 100 times and crushing Shepard’s head with a television set — as neighborhood troublemakers.

Vince said a more unified neighborhood could stand up to such individuals before things get out of hand.  

“If I saw four or five guys out there and I didn’t know them and they were being obnoxious, if I knew I could count on my neighbors and I could call my neighbors and get four of them out there and say ‘you know what, not here,’ I would,” he said. “But to go out and do it myself, it’s like suddenly I’m the target.” 

The Kingfield Neighborhood Association’s (KFNA) Crime Prevention and Safety Committee (CPaS) made the 3600 block murders a main discussion topic at its June meeting, attended by residents, police, city staff and City Council member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward).

The committee planned to reach out to the 3600 block after Daniels and Robert’s funerals, which were scheduled for late June.

“Our first order of business is going to the 36th Street and 1st Avenue block to door knock and try to organize them as a block,” said Chris DeParde, the KFNA board representative on the CPaS Committee.

To enhance community engagement, the group is also encouraging residents to volunteer for activities at Dr. Martin Luther King Park.

The Minneapolis chapter of Men Against Destruction-Defending Against Drugs and Social-Disorder (MAD DADS) was looking into hosting a healing event at the park after the funeral. The group sponsored a neighborhood vigil for Daniels and Robert June 16 in conjunction with Glidden’s office and several other groups.

Many community members and friends and family of the victims showed up and have continued to offer support.

Laurie Hanzal, Robert’s fourth-grade teacher at Kenny Elementary School, said he was an energetic boy who loved football. Katricia always made sure he was in school, clean and ready, Hanzal said.

Hanzal said Robert was improving in school. She made a deal with him during the school year that if he kept doing well, she’d buy him ice cream. On June 11, she did.

Kenny students and staff will feel avoid when Robert, who has attended the school since kindergarten, is gone in the fall, Hanzal said.

“Everyone knew Robert,” she said. “It’s been really difficult for everyone to figure this out because it’s just so senseless.”

Lt. Amelia Huffman, who oversees the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide unit, said the case would likely never make sense. Flowers and Thompson, who knew Daniels through her 15-year-old son incarcerated in Chicago, pointed fingers at each other in testimony to investigators. The motive was either money or Daniels’ car, according to the complaint.

“That is insufficient to explain the kind of violence that was done to the victims and I think there is simply no way to make that comprehensible,” Huffman said.

Daniels’ boyfriend Joseph Williams found the bodies after returning from work at 7 a.m. June 12. He also found his 18-month-old daughter, covered in blood, but unharmed.

Investigators and forensic scientists worked the blood-spattered scene for four solid days, Huffman said.

The house will be quarantined for some time to come, she said.

“We’re going to keep the scene secure until we are certain that we have gleaned every possible piece of evidence,” she said.

Thompson and Flowers are scheduled to stand trial as adults July 17. They have not entered a plea yet.