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West-central Minnesota community comes together to try and make sense of tragic stabbing of teenager

Members of the Olivia community gathered Friday evening near where Isaac Hoff, 13, was killed early Thursday morning, to remember, grieve and try to understand how such a thing could happen. Hoff was killed after being stabbed, allegedly by his mother's boyfriend. Houston Morris has been charged with three felony counts of second-degree murder.

Tanner Weidauer pauses for a moment in front of a memorial wall for 13-year-old Isaac Hoff Friday evening in downtown Olivia. Houston Allen Morris, of Olivia, allegedly stabbed and killed Hoff early Thursday morning.
Tanner Weidauer pauses for a moment in front of a memorial wall for 13-year-old Isaac Hoff Friday evening in downtown Olivia. Houston Allen Morris, of Olivia, allegedly stabbed and killed Hoff early Thursday morning.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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OLIVIA, Minn. — It is fitting that so many people remembered Isaac Hoff as a happy and laughing teenager since his name, taken from the first book of the Holy Bible, means 'one who laughs.'

"He was always smiling," said Henry Meyers, lead pastor at Grace Community Church.

While there was laughter Friday night at the church in Olivia, it was sharing space with grief and pain as a large crowd attended a vigil for the 13-year old, who died early Thursday morning in a domestic abuse event, in an apartment located just above the church.

Friends of 13-year-old Isaac Hoff, who was stabbed and killed early Thursday, gather to mourn his passing outside of where Hoff was murdered in downtown Olivia Friday afternoon.
Friends of 13-year-old Isaac Hoff, who was stabbed and killed early Thursday, gather to mourn his passing Friday afternoon, outside the building in downtown Olivia where the stabbing took place.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

"I am so sorry for your loss," Meyers said to the congregation of friends, family, classmates and community members.

Hoff, an 8th grader at BOLD Public Schools, died after being stabbed, allegedly by the boyfriend of his mother. The suspect, Houston Allen Morris, is facing three counts of 2nd degree murder and had his first court appearance on Friday. Hoff's mother was also injured in the incident.

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Members of Hoff's family brought the vigil together with Grace Community Church opening its doors, giving everyone a place to gather out of the biting wind. Candles in glass vases were available for people to write notes on with markers then light, with some of the candles lining the sidewalk outside. The outside wall of the church, the former home of The Master's Coffee Shop and the Christian Community Outreach Center, was inscribed with many messages to Hoff in chalk.

Tyren Dircks uses chalk to write a message to 13-year-old Isaac Hoff at his vigil in downtown Olivia Friday afternoon. Houston Allen Morris, of Olivia, who was dating Hoff's mother, allegedly stabbed and killed the teenager early Thursday morning.
Tyren Dircks uses chalk to write a message to 13-year-old Isaac Hoff at his vigil in downtown Olivia Friday afternoon. Houston Allen Morris, of Olivia, who was dating Hoff's mother, allegedly stabbed and killed the teenager early Thursday morning.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

"Isaac was a spunky but a very bighearted young man," said Kaleigh Gilberts, one of Hoff's aunts. "He loved his mom and baby sister. They meant the world to him."

Mydalene Mendez, aunt to Hoff's young sister, also remembered a boy who loved the little girl.

"And she loved him," smiling brightly when he would come by, Mendez said. She said it was important for her to attend the vigil, for the baby, as well as to support the rest of Isaac's family.

The group at the vigil was a young crowd, many who were friends and classmates of Hoff. They remembered a great friend who was always cheerful.

River Estrada reads messages written on the wall outside the home of 13-year-old Isaac Hoff, who was stabbed and killed one day prior on Thursday in his downtown Olivia apartment allegedly by Houston Allen Morris, of Olivia.
River Estrada reads messages written on the wall outside the building where 13-year-old Isaac Hoff was stabbed early Thursday in the downtown Olivia apartment. Hoff later died at the Olivia Hospital.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

"He was a good guy, very outgoing, funny," said friend Angel Lutz.

The teenager's death, and how he died, has been hard for most to understand, especially for fellow students.

"I don't think I have fully comprehended it," said Elijah Swenson, friend and classmate.

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BOLD Schools has been reaching out to support its staff and students during this difficult time. BOLD Principal Brett Benson, in an interview with the West Central Tribune Friday afternoon, said the district's crisis plan has been put into action, with mental health professionals having been at the school since Thursday.

Mea Egge, at left, and Danielle Heck comfort one another during a vigil for13-year-old Isaac Hoff on Friday afternoon in Olivia.
Mea Egge, at left, and Danielle Heck comfort one another during a vigil for13-year-old Isaac Hoff Friday evening in Olivia.

"Having a loss in your school is never easy," Benson said.

Over the last few days the school has been offering those who need it safe spaces to process, talk or just grieve. Meetings were held with staff and with Hoff's classmates. A prerecorded message also went out to BOLD parents, to make them aware of what was going on. There is also information about grief on the school district's website . Councilors will be at the school again on Monday. Afterward, the district will evaluate its next steps, to make sure both students and staff are getting the help they need.

"Everybody grieves differently," Benson said.

At the vigil, Olivia Mayor Jon Hawkinson said he really didn't know what to say about what had happened. The city has dealt with several tragic events in the last year, including the death of BOLD sophomore Carter Bremseth in December and the officer-involved shooting in July 2021 .

"Just really heartbroken obviously," Hawkinson said. "We need to come together as a community, repair and grow."

While the grief was palpable at the vigil, Meyers hoped people would also treasure Hoff's smile and sense of humor.

"Please laugh, that is what his name means," Meyers said. "We want to remember the funny things he did."

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Friends of 13-year-old Isaac Hoff write messages at his vigil in downtown Olivia Friday afternoon.
Friends of 13-year-old Isaac Hoff write messages at his vigil in downtown Olivia Friday evening.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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