It was a mechanized thunderstorm that lasted more than six hours on the Idaho-Washington border.
Bikers, saddled on more than 500 Harley-Davidsons, converged Sunday at a small bar in Stateline to do what they could for Shasta Groene, the 8-year-old lone survivor of a kidnapping and the slayings of four family members.
Most gave money, dropping their cash into a 4-foot appliance box that sat at the front door of Cruiser’s bar and grill, a popular biker hangout. Others at the event, which drew a thousand people or more, bought raffle tickets or bid in a silent auction.
“I watched one guy walk up, open his wallet and dump everything but $5 into the box,” said Prospect Bryce, who guarded the donation box for the Northwest Idaho chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club. “I’ve been watching people drop, not small bills, but large bills – 100s, 20s.”
Their donations are part of a massive community fund drive to make sure Shasta Groene isn’t lacking for help as she deals with the deaths of her mother, Brenda Groene, 40; brothers Dylan, 9, and Slade, 13; and Mark McKenzie, 37, Brenda Groene’s boyfriend.
State and federal prosecutors say the four were killed by Joseph E. Duncan III, a 42-year-old registered sex offender from Fargo, N.D. He’s accused of murdering McKenzie, Brenda and Slade Groene with a hammer on May 15 at their home just east of Coeur d’Alene, then abducting Shasta and Dylan Groene.
Dylan’s remains were found at a remote Montana campsite July 4. Shasta Groene, according to charging documents against Duncan, told investigators Duncan sexually assaulted her and Dylan repeatedly. The girl was found after staff and customers noticed her eating with Duncan at a Coeur d’Alene Denny’s at 2 a.m. July 2.
“Shasta is going to probably need help for the rest of her life,” said Wendy Price, the girl’s aunt. The family hasn’t begun to tally bills related to Shasta’s recovery, her four days in a Coeur d’Alene hospital and ongoing counseling. Relatives said the girl is amazingly upbeat, but they have also described her as not comprehending her abduction.
Steve Groene, Shasta’s father, who stood at the front of an impromptu receiving line in the hot sun embracing leather-clad bikers for more than five hours, said the support Sunday was overwhelming, though not surprising. Steve Groene is part of the local biker community.
“You say bikers and people think of gangs, but these people are the best people in the world,” he said. “These people step up for anything and everything.”
There are three major bank accounts set up to help Shasta:
“ The one supported Sunday was created at Panhandle State Bank in Idaho by the Windermere Foundation, care of Shasta Groene, 1000 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene, ID, 83814.
“ The second fund, created by friends of Steve Groene, is the Dylan and Shasta Groene Fund at Inland Northwest Bank.
“ A third fund has been created at U.S. Bank’s Coeur d’Alene branches.
Donations are expected to pay for Shasta’s short- and long-term care and potentially her college education.
There was talk among the crowd of donors Sunday about whether the Groene family could sue Minnesota officials who arrested Duncan last year on suspicion of molesting two boys, but released him on $15,000 bail. The bail money was posted by a Fargo businessman who befriended Duncan.
Steve Groene said legal action against Minnesota officials wasn’t an option he was considering, nor was it an option he’d pursue against Joe Crary, the businessman who posted Duncan’s bail.
“They have to live with what they’ve done,” Steve Groene said.