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Dave Roepke, Published December 13 2009

Father of slain son hoping for charges

The first Thanksgiving Ralph LaFromboise spent without his son was tough.

The first Christmas without him will be even worse.

“I want to buy him gifts, but what am I going to do with gifts?” Ralph said of his son, Joel LaFromboise, who was shot and killed in Moorhead in June, nearly four months short of his 18th birthday.

Losing a child is always tragic, but for LaFromboise it’s been an especially hard six months since his son was shot in the chest

at point-blank range after wandering into the home of a stranger just after midnight on June 20.

The shooter, Vernon Allen, hasn’t been charged in the death. The investigation is ongoing as police wait for the results of the final lab work. Details of the case won’t be made public until the investigation is closed, police say.

Those two facts – the lack of charges and the lack of specifics about the investigation – frustrate the LaFromboise family.

After an initial barrage of contact with investigators, Ralph LaFromboise said he’s heard little in the past couple of months.

“It’s almost been a half a year now. By now, they should have known something,” he said.

Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said detectives are waiting for tests being done in the state-run crime lab in Bemidji on the .12-gauge shotgun used in the shooting. Results are expected sometime this month, he said.

Results from a coroner’s report finished months ago provided some firearms information, but Ebinger said the work being done now will be more detailed.

“We want all the story,” he said.

LaFromboise said investigators have told him the firearms testing could be used to confirm or discount Allen’s description of the incident. A preliminary autopsy backed up Allen’s account, police said a few days after the shooting.

Allen said at the time that the 6-foot-3-inch LaFromboise seemed disoriented, didn’t respond when told to leave and grabbed the barrel of Allen’s shotgun. Allen said he shot the boy in self-defense.

The teen’s father said he still hopes charges are filed against Allen.

“I’d like to see him suffer the way I’m suffering,” LaFromboise said. “It would make me feel better to see him locked up.”

Ebinger said criminal charges are still possible, but not yet warranted.

“I refuse to treat this case like a foregone conclusion,” he said. “We’re going to get every scrap of evidence that’s out there.”

Police are not sharing the details of the investigation with the victim’s family. Ebinger has said they will get to see reports before they are made public but after prosecutors review them for potential charges.

The wait for crime lab reports is probably longer because there have been no arrests in the case, the chief said. Evidence linked to an active court case is likely to be higher priority.

LaFromboise thinks if the shooter were Native American like him, he’d be waiting in jail.

“I don’t want to play the racial card, but that’s kind of what my feeling is,” he said.

Ebinger said race isn’t a factor. He said he’s particularly sensitive to those types of claims because he spent much of his career in Little Rock, Ark., which has a history of racial unrest.

The credibility of his department relies on all people getting equal treatment, the chief said, and he does not tolerate racism.

“If I’ve got a cop that’s got that attitude, I’m going to fire him,” Ebinger said.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, LaFromboise is still reeling from the death of his son.

“I just think about him all the time. It’s really hard,” he said.

To make matters worse, he learned last week that he’ll lose his job at the Smucker’s plant in West Fargo when it closes in April.

Even that reminds him of Joel, who had already put in an application to start working at the plant when he turned 18.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535