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By Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published November 29 2012

Three children slain in New Town laid to rest

WARSAW, N.D. - The bells of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church rang over the snowy cemetery here Thursday as the bodies of a sister and two brothers slain together last week in New Town were laid to rest side-by-side in matching caskets.

Their parents, Kevin Schuster and Rebecca Schuster, each sprinkled holy water on the children’s coffins and prayed at each one as friends and family members – including the three children’s two siblings – huddled against a north wind that froze tears.

Benjamin Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10, and Luke Schuster, 6, were killed Nov. 18, along with their grandmother, Martha Johnson, 64, by someone using a high-powered rifle in Johnson’s New Town home, southwest of Minot.

Kalcie Eagle, 21, who lived about a block away from Johnson, has been identified by the FBI as a person of interest in the case, after he killed himself with a knife four hours after the four were slain. Little else has been said by the FBI about the case.

The evil done to the three children can’t overcome God’s love, the parish’s priest told the 350 who nearly filled the “cathedral of the prairie” that dominates the skyline of this hamlet 30 miles north of Grand Forks.

The Rev. John Kleinschmidt said that Jesus was now welcoming the three children in heaven and pointed to the large round stained glass window behind the altar, showing Jesus sitting and embracing children.

“You are God’s children, and you are home,” Kleinschmidt said.

The Polish parish sang together “Serdeczna Matko,” or “Beloved Mother,” in Polish without needing to look at any printed page.

For this unimaginable funeral of three young ones, the sill of each tall stained glass window in the arched sanctuary was filled with stuffed teddy bears and lions; a giant white bear sat up front, between caskets.

The three spent much of their shortened lives in this historic church.

Kleinschmidt baptized Luke as a baby and remembered him as “a jokester.” Julia was a “socialite” with “a bubbliness,” who would smilingly keep going back into the line after Mass each Sunday to shake the priest’s hand multiple times.

“It always put a smile on my face,” Kleinschmidt said.

The oldest, Benjamin, had already overcome cancer and was serious about his Catholic faith, the pastor said.

“Benji died with a scapular over his chest,” the priest told the congregation, referring to a devotional piece of cloth worn often on a leather string, often given to children at their first communion.

Christian Schuster, 12, survived the shooting by hiding under the body of his brother; he called 911. Ava, 8, was out of the house, sledding down the street, when the gunman came in about 3 p.m. that Sunday.

On Thursday, Kevin and Rebecca held tight to Christian and Ava during the funeral and during the long, cold walk to the grave site. But their priest told the family, and everyone, that they have hope from a God who is a Father knowing the loss of his own Son.

“One day we will see them again,” he said. “And hear their laughter again and see their love.”

No reason for the killings has been released by the FBI, which is in charge of the investigation because it involves a tribal member – Eagle – on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, owned by the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Facing difficulties, the Schusters had moved recently from Minto, near Warsaw, to New Town, and Martha Johnson had taken her five grandchildren into her home.

The funeral for Johnson was Monday in New Town.

Friends from New Town made the long drive to grieve Thursday for the slain children.

Katie Decoteau, 13, and her brother, Khael Decoteau, 10, came with their mother, Kelly McGrady, the 300 miles across North Dakota to the funeral.

“Luke was in my catechism class at St. Anthony’s in New Town,” said McGrady. “Katie was in class with Benjamin, Khael with Julia.”

McGrady said of the Schuster children,” They were very knowledgeable and very kind.”

Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald