Authorities are asking campers and hikers venturing into the forests of North Idaho this Memorial Day weekend to be on the lookout for anything that might help them solve last week’s triple homicide or find two missing children.
“With the holiday weekend coming up, thousands of people are going into the national forests,” said Capt. Ben Wolfinger, of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. “If anybody sees anything suspicious, please don’t touch it.”
Instead, discoveries should be immediately reported to the Sheriff’s Office, he said.
Three bodies were found bound and bludgeoned to death May 15 in a house in the Wolf Lodge Bay area near Lake Coeur d’Alene. Missing from the bloody homicide scene were the youngest members of the victims’ family, 8-year-old Shasta Groene and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan “D.J.” Groene.
Later this week, FBI investigators will don hazardous material protection suits and sort through the trash from Wolf Lodge in the Kootenai County landfill, looking for any evidence that could help move the case forward.
Authorities had hoped that wouldn’t be necessary, that the children would be found and the homicides solved by now. But as the number of tips coming into the sheriff’s tip line climbed to more than 1,150 Tuesday, investigators still didn’t have a suspect.
“They have not closed the door on any possible theory,” Wolfinger said.
Meanwhile, families of the victims continued to grieve. A visitation for 13-year-old Slade Groene was held Tuesday at English Funeral Home, where the chapel was decorated with poems and posters from Slade’s classmates at Lakes Middle School.
He and his mother, 40-year-old Brenda K. Groene, will be remembered today during a 3 p.m. memorial service at Real Life Ministries in Post Falls. A private service was held for the family of Mark McKenzie, 37, who also was killed at the small home on Frontage Road just a few miles east of Coeur d’Alene.
The homicides happened sometime after a party at the home the evening of May 15. A neighbor asked the Sheriff’s Office to check on the family the next day, because he found the home unusually quiet.
Jesse S. Groene, the 18-year-old son of Brenda Groene, was granted a six-hour furlough by a district court judge so that he could attend today’s funeral. Jesse Groene is in jail awaiting sentencing on a felony burglary charge.
Judge John T. Mitchell ruled that Jesse Groene could attend the funeral, a private visitation at the funeral home and a family gathering, as long as his father drove him and he was constantly in the company of family.
Mitchell also recommended that the church provide security from a private firm, preferably with a metal detector at the entrance, as a precautionary measure.
“I worry about Mr. Groene’s safety,” he said, not elaborating except to note that the homicides remain unsolved.
Kootenai County sheriff’s Lt. Dan Soumas said the sheriff was not in a position to provide security at the church.
“It’s going to be a large, emotional event,” he said. “We prefer not to have anybody there who has to physically take him back into custody.”
Prosecutor Bill Douglas said he did not object to the request for a furlough. “It’s certainly to allow this family to go through the grieving process for someone who lost their mother and little brother,” he said.
An Amber Alert for the two missing children has been discontinued, but the Idaho State Police will continue to display information about Shasta and Dylan Groene on its highway reader boards in North Idaho indefinitely, said Rick Ohnsman, ISP spokesman.
“The word ‘alert’ is the operative word here,” Ohnsman said. “It’s designed to be a first-alert system. … Hopefully it (the information) is being distributed more widely, but using the more traditional means of the media.”
The children’s photos have been widely distributed by the media, and the FBI is offering up to a $100,000 reward for information leading to their discovery. Authorities are hoping an alert vacationer might spy something this weekend that could help.
“We’re looking for that lucky break,” Ohnsman said.
Because of the national forests’ proximity to Coeur d’Alene, it’s not unheard of to find bodies or other evidence of crime dumped in the woods, said Panhandle National Forest spokesman Dave O’Brien.
“Where the forest is so near the community, we have to be aware of all the urban ills that can happen there,” he said.