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Nomaan Merchant, Associated Press, Published January 30 2011

Tribe mourns woman, children dead in Minot shootings

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A South Dakota tribe mourned Sunday after three of its members, a mother and two children, were found dead in shootings at two separate North Dakota homes.

The bodies of Jolene Zephier, 38, and Dylan Zephier, 13, and Jolene Zephier's boyfriend, Jeremy Longie, 22, were found Friday afternoon in a trailer home southeast of the city of Minot. Sabrina Zephier, 19, was found dead in another home about five miles away.

The Zephiers are members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, based in the southeast corner of South Dakota along the Missouri River, near Nebraska. Longie is not believed to be from the Yankton tribe, said Robert Cournoyer, the tribal chairman.

Family members said Jolene Zephier moved to Minot more than a decade ago. Sabrina and Dylan Zephier went north to join her in recent years, family members said.

“Everybody's taking it pretty hard right now,” said Madonna Zephier, Jolene's mother. “It's hard to think.”

Madonna Zephier said her daughter first went to United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck and later moved to Minot, where she had two jobs. They spoke last week, Madonna Zephier said.

“She just talked about her kids and her dog and her job and, you know, things like that,” she said. “She seemed like she was all right.”

Relatives remembered Sabrina Zephier as a new mother who loved sports and had a twin sister, and Dylan Zephier as an energetic, smiling teenager.

Sabrina Zephier wanted to become a fashion designer, said her aunt, Monique Zephier. She gave birth to a daughter late last year, relatives said.

“When she found out she was pregnant, she was thrilled,” Monique Zephier said. “That was the best thing that happened to her. The joy of her life was her daughter.”

Dylan Zephier had his 13th birthday in January, Monique Zephier said. “Dylan was full of energy,” she said. “He always had a smile on his face. He was a mama's boy.”

Cournoyer said he knew Jolene Zephier when she was a student at reservation schools in the 1980s. The slayings had shaken many of the approximately 5,000 people living on the reservation, he said.

“They're really kind of caught off guard,” he said. “I think people can't believe how that happened, especially the tragedy of it all.”

Police would not comment Sunday on a potential motive for the slayings. On Saturday, Minot Police Capt. Dan Strandberg said police have questioned a “person of interest,” but officials wouldn't say whether that person was being held.

“Nobody has been taken into custody,” Strandberg said. “But we don't have somebody out there randomly shooting people at random.”

Minot, about 100 miles north of Bismarck, has a population of about 36,000 and is home to the Minot Air Force Base, which has about 4,800 active-duty military personnel. It's also in the shadow of the state's booming oil patch and has benefited from the region's increased crude production in recent years.

The North Dakota Attorney General's office said 15 homicides occurred in North Dakota in 2009, up from four in 2008 — the lowest on record. The 2010 statistics were not yet available, but the state has averaged about 11 homicides annually.

Funeral arrangements are still pending, family members said.

Associated Press writer James MacPherson contributed to this report from Minot, N.D.