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Mont. triple murder suspect arrested in Spokane Valley

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 5, 2011, 8:15 p.m.

Sheldon Bernard Chase, 22 (FBI)
Sheldon Bernard Chase, 22 (FBI)

A 22-year-old man accused of killing three people in Montana was arrested Wednesday near the Spokane Valley Mall.

Sheldon Bernard Chase was taken into custody without incident during a traffic stop about 4 p.m., said Frank Harrill, agent in charge of the Spokane office of the FBI.

“We do not believe there are any other subjects at large,” Harrill said.

Chase is suspected of using a rifle Tuesday to kill his 80-year-old grandmother, Gloria Sarah Goes Ahead Cummins; his cousin, 21-year-old Levon Driftwood; and her boyfriend, 20-year-old Rueben Jefferson.

The shootings happened at Cummins’ home about 10 miles outside Lodge Grass on the Crow Indian Reservation, Harrill said.

Chase was arrested just a few hours after a wanted flyer was distributed to area law enforcement, authorities say.

The arrest was a coordinated effort between the Spokane Violent Crime Gang Enforcement Team, Spokane Police Patrol Anti-Crime Team, Spokane Valley Police, Bureau of Indian Affairs and FBI.

Eric Barnhart, FBI supervisor in Billings, told The Associated Press that investigators are still trying to piece together what led to the shooting.

“At this point, we still don’t know,” he said. “With some history of mental illness, that’s an X factor.”

Barnhart declined to release any details about the circumstances of the arrest.

Chase lives with his uncle in a mobile home about 100 feet from the modest log house near Lodge Grass, city clerk Cody Not Afraid said.

On Wednesday, police tape stretched across Cummins’ property, and Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement officers kept onlookers from approaching.

It was unclear what led to the shootings or how Chase was identified as a suspect. Earlier Wednesday, Barnhart said authorities considered Chase to be armed and extremely dangerous.

People in Lodge Grass described the victims and the suspect as coming from a prominent, well-respected family in the community. Chase moved there about a year ago from North Dakota, where he had grown up, and was attending Little Bighorn College about 20 miles away in Crow Agency, said Rev. Jim Antoine, the priest at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church.

Antoine said he baptized Chase as a child, and Chase and his two brothers frequently traveled with their mother from North Dakota to visit her family. Since moving to Lodge Grass, Chase went to Mass several times a week, sometimes with family members but often alone after his classes were done, Antoine said.

Antoine described Chase as a “beautiful and good person,” but said Chase had witnessed a traumatic event when he was a teenager that affected him mentally and which he still carries around with him. Antoine declined to say what Chase had witnessed.

“I know Sheldon had problems dealing with this. It haunted him, but he wouldn’t talk about it. He was affected emotionally by that experience,” Antoine said.

Despite that, Antoine said the shootings did not strike him as “normal behavior” for Chase and prayed for him to be found without harm coming to him.

Dennis Bravo, the maintenance man at the church, saw Chase at Mass two or three times a week, but said “there was something strange” about him.

“Looks like a nice kid from a distance, but when you see him face-to-face, well, my wife says he spooked her,” Bravo said

He described an incident after one Mass in which he said he saw an angry Chase yelling at a young child, possibly for riding a bicycle around the church.

Lodge Grass residents described Cummins as the matriarch of an extended clan on the reservation, a devout Catholic who was also very knowledgeable about Crow traditions.

“If someone wanted to know about the Crow way of life, we’d send them to her. She had a great knowledge about the Catholic way of life and the Crow way of life,” Antoine said.

Crow took in Driftwood and Driftwood’s sister as teenagers after their mother died, taking care of the girls until she had a stroke several years ago that made it difficult to get around, Antoine said. Then, the girls stayed on and took care of their grandmother, with Driftwood’s boyfriend Jefferson living with them.

Driftwood and Jefferson have two children, ages 2 and 3, Antoine said.

Schools were closed on Wednesday, and some Lodge Grass residents said earlier in the day that they were frightened to leave their homes as long as the suspect remained at large. Schools were also closed as a precaution in the Mandaree area on North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where Chase has family.

Crow tribal secretary Scott Russell warned against speculation on what sparked the shooting until all the facts are known. He said he could not recall a tragedy of such magnitude among the close-knit tribe.

“This is pretty devastating to the community and the Crow Nation,” he said. “We are all in shock.”

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