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Friday, March 22, 2024

Aberdeen is a killing field

On a balmy, clear Wednesday last November about 15 minutes after noon, two cars pulled into the parking lot at the YMCA.  The occupant of one car murdered the occupant of the other. The local media reported it this way: "Officers had determined by Wednesday [a week after the incident] that two vehicles pulled into the north entrance of the Aberdeen Family YMCA parking lot and one person shot the other, [Police Capt. Tanner] Johndahl said."  Although the police were called to the scene minutes after it happened, it took a week to figure out that one person shot another.

It took two months for law enforcement to decide there was nothing to do about it.  That included  to not explain to their constituents what happened.

Here is the outline of how the matter was reported:

The police were summoned.


The name of the person who was shot had not been released as of the Friday after it happened.

“The individual who is believed to have fired the gunshot was on scene when law enforcement arrived,” per the release.

Life-saving measures with the help of YMCA staff were attempted and the victim was transported to St. Lukes Avera Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The hospital went on lockdown, but nearby schools and the YMCA didn't. 

The agencies responding were the Aberdeen Police Department, the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Brown County Emergency Management and Aberdeen Fire & Rescue.

The person believed to have shot the gun was initially detained, but released the following day.

The State's Attorney said the investigation was ongoing.

Six days after the shooting, the name of the victim, Donald Michael Heinz, was released.

More than two months after the shooting, the State's Attorney announced that the shooters name is Trenton Milton, the stand-your-ground  law had been investigated, no charges were filed, and the case is closed.

So, what was the cause or reason for the shooting?

Local law enforcement seems to think its constituents are a bunch of gullible dolts who know nothing and deserve to be kept ignorant.  The premise of democracy is that the people rule and to do so have the right to know what is going on in their government so that they can make intelligent choices.  In this case, as in others, we get this bewildering account of a violent death which gives us no information about the motives and circumstances behind a brazen killing or about the basis for its decisions.

One thing we do know is that democracy in this part of the country is a failure.  In recent years, we have a single party government with no leaders or candidates who note the failures and offer to make the instruments of democratic process work for us again.

Donald Michael Heinz was 70 years old, worked for 43 years at Hub City Manufacturing, and had a family.  When he drove into that parking lot was he in pursuit of Trenton Milton?  Did he have a weapon with which he was menacing Mr. Milton?  What was the relationship between the two men?

There are those who say it's none of our business.  But in a real democracy, the moral and social health of the community is our business, and we need to understand the forces and resolution of this morbid episode.  Is the failure to provide coherent information a matter of dysfunction in law enforcement?  We note that the  sheriff and chief of police promised to address a conflict between their agencies.  Is that conflict part of the cause for the incomprehensible handling of this case?

And, of course, Aberdeen no longer has a full-fledged newspaper, which means that coverage of city hall and the police station doesn't have a journalist devoted to tracking the personalities, issues, and events involved in running the city.  However, I note that the coverage of the city has never been as intensive in Aberdeen as it was for the cities in newspapers for which I worked.

I also note that this incident occurs in the context of some setbacks for the city, the closings of Presentation College and Banner Engineering.  Many other businesses have left town in recent years.

With the handling of this shooting, Aberdeen has become a killing ground.  No explanation has been offered for why Donald Heinz was killed.

That makes Aberdeen a good place to leave.  It's a trend.

1 comment:

Miranda Gohn said...

My renewal for the Aberdeen Insider came in the mail. Doubtful I will renew. Very disappointed. I am grateful the publisher of the Litchfield Independent Review and Hutchinson Leader take stands and serve as a check and balance when need be. My mother calls it "The Aberdeen Fluff." She practically grew up in the newspaper business with her father spending his entire career selling advertising for the Mitchell Daily Republic. Aberdeen further suffers from not having a fully functional newspaper.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States