By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Dunn County Sheriff Kevin Bygd says he has a “high degree of certainty” that the suspect(s) responsible for four homicide victims found in the Town of Sheridan Sunday afternoon are no longer in the area.
“We are confident that this was a place these victims were randomly brought to,” Sheriff Bygd said during a news conference held at the Dunn County Judicial Center late Tuesday (September 14) afternoon.
At 2:18 p.m. Sunday, the Dunn County Communication Center received a 911 call that three people were in a vehicle who were “not moving,” he said.
The vehicle was located in a standing field of corn just off county Highway VVV in the Town of Sheridan near the Sheridan Town Hall, the sheriff said.
Twelve minutes after the 911 call, deputies and first responders were at the scene where a black SUV had been found “intentionally driven off the road about 50 yards into a standing corn field,” he said.
The vehicle had four occupants, and all were deceased. The four people were identified, and the names were released after the families had time to notify family members, Sheriff Bygd said.
The four victims were identified as Nitosha Lee Flug-Presley, female, age 30, of Stillwater, Minn.; Matthew Isiah Pettus, male, age 26, of Saint Paul, Minn.; Loyace Foreman III, male, age 35, of St. Paul, Minn.; and Jasmine Christine Sturm, female, age 30, of St. Paul, Minn.
Autopsies were performed on all four victims Monday, and all four died from gunshot wounds, he said.
“My team is working hard on a thorough investigation … to make sure justice is served for these four victims as soon as possible,” Sheriff Bygd said.
As the investigation has progressed, law enforcement officers believe the suspect or suspects have left the area after abandoning the SUV in the corn field, he said.
Although it was unknown initially if the suspect or suspects were still in the area, “we no longer feel there is a concern for the safety of local residents,” Sheriff Bygd said.
“We are now confident the suspect or suspects had left the area before the SUV was ever discovered. Out hearts go out to the families and friends of these victims,” he said.
“I wish I could release more information and details of our investigation, but we have to balance the public’s interest to know the details with running the risk of harming our investigation and losing evidence on building a strong homicide case. We will release more information as the investigation progresses and arrests are made,” Sheriff Bygd said.
For the remainder of the 14 minute news conference, Sheriff Bygd answered questions posed by reporters.
One reporter asked about the Facebook post by the Menomonie Police Department about three suspects who had broken into the state Department of Natural Resources office and had stolen a pickup truck.
Sheriff Bygd: Completely unrelated.
Question: Where do you believe the suspects are headed if they are no longer in the area?
Sheriff Bygd: We do not believe they were locals and that they went back to their home base.
Question: How many suspects?
Sheriff Bygd: We do not know.
Question: Do you know the motive?
Sheriff Bygd: That’s a mystery. No — we do not know a motive.
Question: Can you say whether the victims were killed in Dunn County or were brought here after they were dead?
Sheriff Bygd: I cannot say that right now.
Question: How many times were they shot?
Sheriff Bygd: We are not disclosing that information.
Question: I’m guessing there was no one in the driver’s seat. Where were the victims located inside the car when they were found?
Sheriff Bygd: Those of us who were on scene know that, and the suspect or suspects know that. We are not releasing that.
Question: Any idea why this area since the victims are from the Twin Cities?
Sheriff Bygd: We cannot find any connection to this area other than randomly driving out of the Twin Cities.
Question: Any relationships between the victims?
Sheriff Bygd: Two were brother and sister, and one was a boyfriend of one of the other victims, to our knowledge.
Question: Do you have a timeline of when they were killed versus when they were found?
Sheriff Bygd: No, not specifically. Ballpark is less than 24 hours.
Question: My understanding is that they may have been seen in St. Paul in establishments on Saturday night.
Sheriff Bygd: I cannot confirm that. That’s part our investigation. We’re still working on it and still trying to flesh that out.
Question: Who found them?
Sheriff Bygd: A farmer in the area.
Question: What about the possibility that two SUVs were seen at the gas station in Wheeler?
Sheriff Bygd: We are still trying to figure out the validity of that information and that’s why the news release from last night asked for information on two vehicles being seen. We’d like more information on that if people witnessed multiple vehicles with Minnesota plates. That may stand out to somebody. Wheeler is a pretty small town, so it may have caught people’s attention.”
Question: How many agencies are working on the investigation?
Sheriff Bygd: Too many to count.
Question: Who is the SUV registered to?
Sheriff Bygd: We are not disclosing that right now.
Question: The location is being described as behind the town hall in Sheridan.
Sheriff Bygd: If you are looking from Highway F, the location is east of the town hall. The Sheridan Town Hall is on county Highway VVV.
Question: You asked for information about people walking or seeking a ride. Have you received any tips?
Sheriff Bygd: The sheriff’s department has received lots of tips of people walking — all the way from Elk Mound to north of Colfax. None of the tips turned out to be related. No local resident has notified us that they were approached or asked for a ride.
Question: Do you know if the suspects left in a car or on foot?
Sheriff Bygd: We suspect they left in a vehicle. We do not believe they were on foot.
Question: Have you learned anything yet from highway cameras or business surveillance cameras?
Sheriff Bygd: We are still working on the information that has come in and we are still waiting for that information to come in — highway cameras and bridge cameras — it could take several weeks to go through that information. There is certainly information out there we are waiting on.
Question: Are you getting many tips or leads coming in?
Sheriff Bygd: Yes. One deputy is fielding all of the calls and tips and is passing them on to the investigation team. The validity of them — I don’t know. We feel we have developed some good information from the tips, and we want them to continue.
Question: Do you know the time of death?
Sheriff Bygd: We don’t know. I’d be lying if I gave you an idea. It’s not as scientific as they make out on CSI. It’s a best guess.
Question: The victims are not from this area. What leads you to believe the suspects are not from this area?
Sheriff Bygd: There is no connection to the area. We cannot suspect someone locally of killing four people from the Twin Cities.
Question: Is this kind of case rare in Dunn County?
Sheriff Bygd: Dunn County has had homicides in the last several years, but not something of this magnitude. I have been working for Dunn County for 33 years. This is the first.
Question: Any indication of organized criminal activity?
Sheriff Bygd: No — not to our knowledge.
Question: Any indication of drugs being involved?
Sheriff Bygd: Not as a specific motive. It very well could be and that could be discovered through our investigation.
Question: Do you have any suspects?
Sheriff Bygd: We are investigating all acquaintances. Everybody is a suspect at this point. We have not nailed down anything specific. It would be harmful to our case if we did. We are looking at all possibilities.
Question: Does the SUV have an OnStar system or a similar tracking system?
Sheriff Bygd: We are looking at all options. The victims’ cell phones, too.
After Sheriff Bygd stopped taking questions, he said he would release more information “as we can.”
“We are hoping to make arrests soon,” he said.