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Community mourns death of Aitkin teenager who suffered a gunshot wound

Dawson Vanportfliet died Thursday at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Dawson was shot May 31 in the neck/jaw area.1 / 3
An earlier photo of Dawson Vanportfliet, who died Thursday at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Dawson was shot May 31 in the neck/jaw area.2 / 3
Tragedy struck the small town of Aitkin this week with the May 31 shooting of a 14-year-old boy who suffered a gunshot wound to the neck/jaw area in rural Aitkin. The boy, Dawson Vanportfliet died Thursday. (Jennifer Stockinger)3 / 3

AITKIN, Minn. - The 14-year-old boy who suffered a gunshot wound to the neck/jaw area in rural Aitkin has died and left the community of Aitkin with heavy hearts.

Dawson Vanportfliet died Thursday at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, the Aitkin County Sheriff's Office reported Friday.

The community hosted a candlelight vigil Monday night for the family, including parents Dennis and Melissa and sister Kobie, praying for Dawson's recovery.

Dawson was an eighth-grader at Aitkin High School. He was a Boy Scout with Troop 52 in Aitkin and was involved in martial arts.

The school offered counseling to students, staff and families through Northern Pines Mental Health Center. Students are done with school for the year, but officials wanted to have counseling available for those who need help.

Aitkin Superintendent Bernie Novak said, "We have heavy hearts right now. We are praying for the family. The whole community is grieving. A lot of people showed up to support the family at a candlelight vigil earlier this week.

"The school is grieving with the family and we are here to support them."

The sheriff's office was called at 9:50 p.m. May 31 to a report of a shooting at a rural Aitkin address. When deputies arrived on scene a couple of minutes later, they observed Dawson with a wound to the neck and CPR being performed on him. Dawson was transported by ambulance to Riverwood Health Care Center in Aitkin and by North Memorial Air Care to Hennepin County Medical Center.

The sheriff's office said Dawson was shot while his father was handling his .40 caliber Sig Sauer pistol.

Dawson's scoutmaster Kevin Flowers didn’t comment directly about Dawson, but he shared a few thoughts through Boy Scout district executive Kenneth Toole: "Dawson was with Troop 52 in Aitkin for four years and was a Star rank scout. Dawson was an active scout always attending troop meetings and the type of scout who was always willing to help the other scouts in his troop.

"He was friends with everybody and a great scout who got along with everyone. I think he really enjoyed the camaraderie and being part of the group and the fun that scouting brings to a boy's life."

On Friday, several employees at Roadside, the Aitkin restaurant where Dennis Vanportfliet works, were having a hard time dealing with Dawson's death.

Kelcie Quiel said her husband Bob works with Dennis Vanportfliet at the restaurant and they are close.

"They are all having a hard time dealing with the loss of Dawson," said Quiel. "It's just so sad, he was such a good kid. He was always nice to everyone.

"I'm worried about his little sister. It's going to be tough for his parents for a very long time."

Bobbi Bourassa of Aitkin didn't know Dawson or his family, but her daughter, Hailey, knew Dawson at school. Hailey, who is a year younger than Dawson, said she feels bad for Dawson and his family.

Dixie Babin of Aitkin said the Vanportfliet family is a "very nice family and their kids are their world. Babin said their daughter is in the same grade as her granddaughter. Babin said she was Dawson's preschool teacher, but she has not talked to him or the family for a long time.

"My heart goes out to the family in this difficult time," said Babin. "Most of the community knows the family and they are a good family."

Michelle Anderson, who has lived in Aitkin for 10 years, didn't know Dawson, but knows of the family.

"It's very sad," Anderson said of Dawson's death. "Very tragic. It is nice to see the outpour of support in Aitkin."

The community started a "Benefit for Angel Dawson Vanportfliet," through Facebook for the family to help with medical expenses. A date has not yet been set on when the benefit will be, said Quiel.

A fund also has been set up for Dawson's family at Members Cooperative Credit Union in Aitkin. It is listed as "Dawson Benefit Fund." People can donate to any MCC location, including Aitkin, McGregor and Cloquet. The address to the credit union in Aitkin is 18 First St. NE, Aitkin MN 56431.

People also can make a donation to the family by going to a website called "gofundme." As of 5 p.m. Friday, $3,355 was raised. The link is: http://bit.ly/1BQ3iXn for more information.

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