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Community mourns after tragedy

Two people died outside this Park Rapids home Tuesday night. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Dawn Anderson was the victim of domestic violence. (Photo courtesy Max Bailey photography)2 / 2

The Park Rapids community is mourning a native daughter who died on her front porch Tuesday night, the victim of domestic violence.

"Dawn was truly an angel," wrote Jolene Jokela Veo on Facebook, describing Dawn Marie Anderson, 45. "How very, very sad."

"She was just a wonderful person," Veo said.

Dawn Anderson died of gunshot wounds, killed by her estranged husband Gregory, 45, who then turned the gun on himself, police said. The incident happened at the couple's home off Birch Briar Lane, which was occupied by Dawn Anderson and the couple's youngest son, Jordan, 20. A restraining order was in place barring Greg Anderson from the premises.

The eldest son, Brandon, lives in North Dakota.

"Such a good, good lady," said Connie Carmichael.

Dawn Anderson was well known among daycare providers. She had started her daycare center, Briar Patch Corner, in her home. She later moved it to its present Henrietta Avenue location, where it flourished. She had recently placed a "Help Wanted" ad with the Enterprise, and was bubbling over at her success. She rarely had a vacancy, she said.

Thursday the child care center referred all calls to the family.

"She had so many fun things for the kids to do all the time and she always provided such great nutritious meals for them," said Veo, whose son and niece attended Briar Patch.

"She was really amazing. She always treated each individual child... and would talk to the parents about what that individual child needed for care or if they were apprehensive about this or that," Veo said.

"I remember her talking about my son brushing his teeth there and learning how to do all that," she said, chuckling at the recollection of her boy learning dental hygiene at daycare.

Fellow daycare providers said it was a natural career choice for the compassionate caregiver who loved kids, was bright and creative and had a knack for business.

Dawn Anderson sat on numerous committees that drew up daycare guidelines and was active in many civic groups. She was the daughter of Ralph and Shari Sanquist of Nevis.

An outpouring of grief spilled across local Facebook pages even before the couple's bodies had been recovered from the crime scene. The bodies were taken to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office in St. Paul for autopsies.

"Park Rapids lost one of the best last night," one Facebook contributor wrote.

"Please pray for these families and friends," wrote another friend. "They will be missed."

Perhaps the most used word to describe Dawn Anderson was "sweetheart."

Pastor Jim Neubauer called it a "mind numbing" tragedy. "Nobody knows really what to say."

The minister at St. John's Lutheran Church in Park Rapids had known Dawn Anderson for 16 years, since he first came to the parish. She had most recently served on the evangelism board, he said, and was very involved in church activities.

"I guess the thing that strikes me most is that Dawn understood the Christian faith and she knew her hope was in Christ and that in Him things would be fine," Neubauer said.

"She was very strong in that gospel Christian faith."

'He put her through hell'

As Dawn Anderson's life was surging upward, her troubled husband's was spiraling in the other direction.

The two married out of high school. Neighbors say the family lived at the Birch Briar Lane address for two decades.

Greg Anderson had held a variety of jobs, friends said, including working for Dawn's father at Sanquist Construction. He was a master Caterpillar operator, acquaintances said.

An active athlete, he loved playing softball and other sports. But mostly, Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers said, "He loved drinking beer with the guys afterward."

The first DWI came in 1988, followed by a drug conviction in 1994.

His second DWI came in 2007, along with a charge of recklessly discharging a firearm, a gross misdemeanor.

As a consequence of those convictions, Greg Anderson was ordered to attend anger management counseling, was to stay out of bars, was not allowed to possess weapons and was to refrain from drug and alcohol use, according to court records.

A third DWI conviction came in June 2010. Greg Anderson was ordered to undergo chemical dependency treatment and random alcohol testing.

In November he appeared in court on a probation violation. He'd been drinking again and was arrested in an incident in which he appeared to be out of control at a hunting camp.

That trip to court coincided with a spree in which he vandalized the Birch Briar home, Eilers said.

Dawn Anderson took out the Order For Protection barring her estranged husband from the residence. Her handwritten petition contained her fears that her husband wanted to kill her, and detailed the escalating incidents of mental deterioration and threats of violence from Greg Anderson.

Even his probation officer indicated without help, Greg Anderson was a powder keg waiting to go off.

Without chemical dependency treatment "he will hurt or kill himself or others," the agent wrote.

Greg Anderson was contrite and voiced his remorse in court that day in November. He agreed to enter a halfway house for chemical dependency treatment in Dilworth, where he remained until Tuesday morning.

But out of court it was a different story. The OFP indicated Greg Anderson's increasing anger toward his family. He blamed them for his failures, Dawn Anderson indicated. He did not want to go to treatment again.

He'd been to treatment several times in between arrests with stays at Pine Manors to try to shake his demons. Success was followed by painful relapses, cycles families of alcoholics can relate to.

One daycare provider said Dawn Anderson moved her childcare center out of her home around the time of Greg's drug arrest, fearful her husband's activities might cost her the daycare license.

"He put her through hell," the provider said, asking her name not be used.

The woman said Dawn had a solid support system of family, friends and church that helped her through the rough patches.

But while grief was showered on Dawn Anderson this week, one Facebook contributor urged the community: "Don't judge Greg too harshly."

Without his addictions, he was a good person, the writer said.

Neighbors said Greg Anderson was an enigma.

Connecting the pieces

Authorities are still trying to piece together the sequence of events that led to the murder-suicide, Eilers said.

They know Greg Anderson left the halfway house Tuesday morning.

"He had his pickup stashed somewhere, we don't know where," Eilers said. "It wasn't at the halfway house."

Eilers said authorities were "checking a rumor to see if Greg Anderson had been served divorce papers at the halfway house," possibly causing him to snap as they learned from a friend of Greg Anderson's.

At some point, Anderson allegedly took a gun from a friend's home, a high-powered rifle with a scope on it. Anderson's guns had been removed via the 2007 court ordered probation, Eilers said.

Eilers said officers had responded to a number of domestic incidents at the Birch Briar home over the years. No charges were ever filed.

The OFP indicated numerous threats against Dawn Anderson relayed by friends.

Neighbors Vance and Shari Carlson said Dawn had asked them to keep an eye out for Greg Anderson this past month.

If they saw him, they were to notify Dawn and she would call police, Vance Carlson said.

Dawn briefly moved in with her parents after receiving text messages indicating Greg had been in the house, a violation of the protection order. It was unclear if he was leaving the halfway house or sending the messages long distance to harass his wife. Eilers said Thursday it would take awhile to review the phone calls and messages between the couple.

Dawn Anderson was living back at home with Jordan the night she died. A neighbor said she was stoic and determined not to be frightened out of her home.

A tragic end

Police records indicate Dawn placed a frantic 911 call at 6:08 Tuesday evening, telling the dispatcher her husband was trying to kill her.

Eilers said "there was a scream" and some commotion in the background.

Then the phone went dead.

Vance and Shari Carlson heard the first gunshot at that time.

Shari looked out the window to see Jordan running down the street. She tried to get his attention but he kept on. Another gunshot followed. She dialed 911 and the couple heard the third gunshot.

Officers were already on the way, Shari Carlson was told.

"We get the call from her, Dawn, and then a second call comes in from the son, Jordan, third call comes in from a neighbor. This is in the space of seconds," Eilers said of the distress calls.

"The boy is running out of the driveway, it's a long drive," Eilers said. "As he's running down the driveway, someplace he's on the phone. He hears his mother scream, hears a shot, turns around and sees her by the front door. And then she was found just a short distance from the front door."

Jordan reported hearing three shots, Eilers said.

"We meet with Jordan, the first officer on the scene. Jordan tells him his dad came busting into the house with a gun, a high powered gun with a scope on it and had hollered at him to leave" or he'd kill Jordan, Eilers said the young man told the officer.

"Jordan hollered at his mom, 'Dad's here with a gun!' The father runs upstairs, kicks in the doors, chases her out of the house and she's shot at the front door," Eilers said.

Some neighbors have reported hearing a fourth muffled shot. Eilers said he's hoping the medical examiner will confirm how many shots were fired.

Numerous calls were made for backup. At the height of the incident 20 officers from Park Rapids, Hubbard County, the Minnesota State Patrol, DNR Conservation officers and parts of the Wadena-Hubbard SWAT team converged on the neighborhood.

The Carlson family was asked to evacuate at 6:25, Vance Carlson said.

Once gathered, logistical problems were apparent, Eilers said. The long driveway, blizzard conditions and heavily forested areas complicated the officers' ability to see the house. Eilers said he wasn't about to put someone in harm's way knowing a high-powered rifle was being fired from a concealed area.

The department called in the Peacekeeper, an armored vehicle belonging to the Wadena-Hubbard County SWAT team.

It was taking too long to arrive from Wadena in the poor weather.

"I had to wait for a few extra guys and our SWAT van" to arrive, Eilers said.

But two distressing things happened during that waiting time, Eilers said.

He got a call from someone telling him news of the deaths was going viral on Facebook pages throughout town. The caller was chewing the chief out about the news leaking.

"We're not even there yet," the stunned chief replied.

And someone had notified Ralph and Shari Sanquist, who arrived on the scene understandably distraught. The couple did not wish to be interviewed.

"When our regular SWAT van showed up we have some extra equipment in there, ballistics shields and whatnot, that's what we used to back up the driveway to get closer," Eilers said. More than a half-hour had elapsed.

The plated van backed up with Sheriff Cory Aukes, Chief Deputy Scott Parks, Dep. Adam Williams, officer Mike Mercil and a conservation officer walking behind it for cover, Eilers said.

Officers saw two bodies on the porch and called out. There was no response.

They confirmed the husband and wife had passed away, just a few feet from each other.

"His fingers were still around the trigger," Eilers said.

Police called in the BCA and got a search warrant to begin the long night of processing evidence and conducting interviews.

Officers on the scene never fired a shot.

It was a little after 8 p.m. when the Carlson family was allowed to return home and officers were told to stand down.

And as a community begins the grieving process, many questions are being asked.

Foremost is why wasn't Dawn Anderson protected?

"It's just a piece of paper," Eilers said sadly of the restraining order. He said abusers focused on a "mission" often cannot be stopped in time.

"It's time to talk about the good times and what a great lady she was," the chief said.

"It was a tragic night, I'll tell you that," Aukes said. He knew both Greg and Dawn Anderson and said the loss was hard to take.

Troubling trends

The Anderson incident was the second such domestic murder-suicide in two days in the region.

Monday night a teenage boy shot his 16-year old girlfriend, then himself, at his Amor home. The Otter Tail County couple left an infant daughter behind.

The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, which annually charts "femicides," said 28 Minnesota people died in 2010, victims of domestic violence. Most were women and children.

Of those deaths, 60 percent of the murders were committed with firearms. Sixty-seven percent occurred when the victim was in the process of leaving the relationship or had just left, the coalition reported.

Dawn Anderson's funeral is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Johns.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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