Two dead, one hospitalized in Crookston in suspected carbon monoxide poisoning
By Stephen J. Lee / Grand Forks Herald
CROOKSTON — This city of 7,844 was responding Monday to the news that a husband and wife were found dead in their home just east of the city and two of their three daughters injured from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Natalie Ostgaard, 51, and Kent Ostgaard, 49, were found dead in their home after their youngest daughter, Gabi, 17, called 911 at 7:49 a.m., Monday, to report apparent carbon monoxide poisoning, said Polk County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jim Tadman.
Their daughter Aryanna Ostgaard, 22, was found in the house unresponsive but breathing. She was taken first to Riverview Health in Crookston, then Altru Hospital in Grand Forks in critical condition before being airlifted to the Methodist Hospital campus of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Tadman said.
Gabi Ostgaard was treated at Riverview and released and was with relatives in Crookston.
The Ostgaards’ middle daughter, Cyrina, was at college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Tadman did not release the name of Gabi Ostgaard because she is a minor, but friends, including at the Crookston Daily Times, identified her.
The family had been having furnace problems the past week or more, Tadman and others said.
Crookston firefighters and ambulance crews responded about 8 a.m. Monday, along with Polk County deputies to the home the family had bought in the past year or two, just a block or two east of the city limits near Central Avenue.
The bodies of Natalie and Kent Ostgaard were taken to UND’s forensic pathology facility which conducts official autopsies. No information was available Monday from the medical examiner on the cause of the Ostgaards’ deaths, Tadman said.
There were no indications of anything suspicious or that would contradict the apparent initial theory that it was carbon monoxide poisoning, Tadman said.
The family had been having trouble with their furnace for more than a week, and had reached out to friends seeking space heaters and talked of using their two fireplaces, said Tadman and others who said they had seen messages on Natalie’s Facebook page.
The furnace was not operating early Monday when law enforcement arrived, Tadman said, but could have been working only hours before. Two electrical space heaters were operating, he said.
The fireplaces had been prepared with wood and paper but “no one had put a match to them,” Tadman said.
The house was rather cold and there was no clear indication of carbon monoxide Monday morning, but the doors had been left open for some time, so it was difficult to gauge what conditions had been like before the 911 call, Tadman said.
The furnace’s propane tank was nearly empty, he said.
“The investigation is still ongoing, but our thinking is it was carbon monoxide and by the time we got there it had dissipated,” Tadman said.
Active in town
The Rev. Bill Reck, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which the Ostgaards attended, visited Monday afternoon with Gabi at the home of her uncle and aunt in Crookston, Natalie’s brother and sister-in-law.
“They asked that you remember them in your prayers and especially pray for Aryanna,” Reck said. Aryanna turned 22 Monday, he said.
The family is “very thankful,” for everyone’s support and prayers, Reck said.
Natalie grew up in Crookston and Kent grew up on a farm near Climax nearby, Reck said.
“They are just a wonderful couple, with three very gifted daughters,” he said. “When there is a tragedy like this, there is a lot of support from a community like Crookston and we are thankful for that.”
Cyrina was with friends Monday at the Lutheran campus ministry at UMD where she is active, Reck said. She likely will be together with her sister Gabi on Tuesday, either in Rochester with Aryanna or in Crookston, said the pastor.
Gabi has been president of the youth group at St. Paul’s and active in sports and speech at Crookston High School, he said, an achiever like her older sisters.
Natalie Ostgaard worked as a reporter and columnist at the Crookston Daily Times until about a year ago, said Managing Editor Mike Christopherson.
Covering the news in her hometown came naturally, he said.
“She knew everybody in the town and a little bit about everybody in case you needed to know,” Christopherson said.
She was a compassionate person who looked beyond difficulties in her own life to think about others, Christopherson said.
Outside of work, her life revolved around her daughters, he said.
She wrote a Monday column that “usually would involve her daughters,” Christopherson said. “She was a very proud Mom.”
Shock at school
Crookston Superintendent Chris Bates happened to be with the school counselor Monday morning when news of the deaths came in.
“He was stunned,” Bates said of the counselor who knew the three Ostgaard sisters well. “His reaction to the news spoke volumes about what good kids they have been. He was just shook to the core.”
The school, once it learned official information, sent teachers a note to speak to their classes as they thought appropriate.
“In a town like Crookston, it shakes you,” Bates said. “I walked down the hall today and kids were on their cell phones probably talking to their parents.”
A few students asked to go home after hearing about it and were allowed to do so, he said.
“We made counselors available for students. Clearly there’s a sense of relief that our student is safe and we are all feeling for her and the pain she is suffering with the tragic news of her family.”
Natalie Ostgaard had written a story about him during his first months at the school, Bates said, and it was clear she was devoted to her daughters and their activities in and out of school.
Students are talking about holding some school event, perhaps, out of respect for the Ostgaards, Bates said.