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FBI says child witnessed slayings on reservation

Fri., Oct. 7, 2011

BILLINGS – A 3-year-old child witnessed the killing of three people in a remote area of Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation and named a family member as the shooter, according to an FBI affidavit.

Sheldon Bernard Chase, 22, was captured in Washington state Wednesday after a multistate manhunt and made an initial appearance before a judge Thursday. He’s accused of killing his grandmother, cousin and cousin’s boyfriend at their rural home on Tuesday.

The violence inside a prominent Crow family known for its adherence to traditional tribal values has roiled the reservation south of Billings. Chase suffers from mental illness, according to authorities and those who know him, an FBI affidavit said. Chase had stopped taking his medications prior to the shootings, although it does not specify when or what the medications were, the FBI said.

A day before the shootings, he left his mother’s house on North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation, taking with him a “Sitting Bull commemorative gun,” the document said.

Shortly before noon Tuesday, Chase’s 21-year-old cousin, Levon Driftwood, sent a text saying Chase had made it to the Crow Reservation, where he had been attending college and living with extended family outside Lodge Grass.

The matriarch of the tight-knit clan, Gloria Cummins, had suffered a stroke several years ago and was cared for by Driftwood. Driftwood and boyfriend Ruben Jefferson had 2-year-old and 3-year-old sons, and the affidavit indicates two children were home when Chase arrived.

A fight ensued between Chase and Jefferson. Chase shot Jefferson, Cummins and Driftwood, and was seen by a neighbor driving away from Cummins’ house at 12:10 p.m., according to the affidavit.

Jefferson’s body was found outside the house by FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs agents who responded to the scene. The bodies of Cummins and Driftwood were inside, and all three had gunshot wounds to the head or face. Authorities allege Chase used a high-powered hunting rifle in the killings.

His capture Wednesday afternoon in Spokane followed a manhunt that stretched from the rugged Crow countryside across much of the northern U.S. Chase was arrested without incident near the Spokane Valley Mall by a team of federal and local law enforcement officers.

Chase was being held on three counts of first-degree murder, and his bail hearing will be held after he is returned to Montana. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Schools on reservations in southeastern Montana and western North Dakota were closed and residents stayed indoors for safety during the search.

Eric Barnhart, FBI supervisor in Billings, said investigators were still trying to piece together what led to the shooting.


 

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