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North Dakota spared a mass shooting in recent years, but not historically

Weapons confiscated from Wednesday's attack in San Bernardino, California are shown in this San Bernardino County Sheriff Department handout photo from their Twitter account released to Reuters December 3, 2015. REUTERS/San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department/Handout

FARGO -- There have been more mass shootings this year in the United States than calendar days, a crowdsourced database reported this week after 14 people died and 21 were wounded after two assailants opened fire in San Bernardino, Calif., on Wednesday, the latest horrific example of what appears to be a national rise in mass shootings.

Mass Shooting Tracker, which relies on news reports, defines a mass shooting as one in which four people were shot, possibly including the shooter.

But North Dakota is one of five states that has been spared a mass shooting so far in 2015, and one of four states that hasn't seen a mass shooting since the start of 2013, when the database began. The other states are Hawaii, New Hampshire and Wyoming.

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said he doesn't know why that is and tries not to focus on the why.

"But I know that we work every day to make our community a safer place, and the way we do that is being very proactive in education," the head of investigations said Friday.

Shooting rampages are in North Dakota's history, though, with examples from as far back as 1920, when seven members of a Turtle Lake family were shot and killed by their neighbor, to as recent as 2003, when a 56-year-old meth user killed three and injured one with a semiautomatic weapon in a Valley City trailer park.

Here are six stories of past mass shootings in North Dakota, as told through documents from the State Historical Society and newspaper archives.

1920: Wolf family murder

The brutal murder of Jacob Wolf and his family in Turtle Lake remains one of the most disturbing killings in North Dakota history, and it started over an argument about Wolf's dog biting one of the neighbor's cows.

After the quarrel, the neighbor, Henry Layer, refused to leave Wolf's farm, and Wolf pulled out his gun, which Layer grabbed.

The conflict ended with Layer shooting and killing Wolf, his wife, four of their daughters and a "choreboy," as news reports of the time called him. Layer also hit the Wolfs' 3-year-old daughter with the side of a hatchet, killing her.

Only an 8-month-old daughter was alive when a different neighbor stopped by the Wolf farm three days later, and Layer confessed.

1936: Jilted lover

John Drennen was in love with Agnes Baker, 19, but she didn't feel the same.

When Drennen entered her house one March night to deliver a letter, she told him to mail it and tried to push him out. He then pulled out a pistol and shot Agnes' mother, Appolonia Baker, followed by Agnes and her 13-year-old sister, Betty.

The women were able to recover from their injuries, but not Drennen. He ran to his apartment and shot himself.

This Bismarck shooting-suicide was the result of "unrequited love," a policeman told The Associated Press at the time.

1976: Steele shootout

This shootout on Interstate 94 near Steele began with the robbery of a Jamestown gas station by a group of young adults from Duluth, Minn., and Bakersfield, Calif.

After the robbery, law enforcement set up a roadblock on Interstate 94, and shortly before 6 p.m., they stopped a car carrying four people, including 24-year-old Edward Rangel. As a deputy began to question the driver, one of the passengers opened fire.

Rangel was killed in the shootout, and four were wounded: two Kidder County deputies and two other passengers, who along with the driver were later charged with robbery.

1983: Gordon Kahl

Gordon Kahl was holding a Sunday afternoon meeting in Medina to plan an independent township because he was certain the banking system would soon collapse. Nearby, law officers were preparing to arrest him for violating probation.

But when the 63-year-old anti-tax protester came up to the roadblock with family and supporters, he started a 30-second shootout that killed two marshals and wounded four, including his son.

Kahl fled the scene, a multistate manhunt ensued, and when he was eventually found, another shootout led to his death.

1992: 15-year-old murderer

Michael Neugebauer was 15 when he shot and killed his parents, brother and sister in the family's trailer just east of Bismarck.

After the shooting, Neugebauer drove to his high school and asked his girlfriend to run away with him, which she did. They were caught two weeks later in Florida.

Neugebauer is now serving multiple life sentences at a high-security prison in Texas, where he was moved after he made two attempts to escape from the North Dakota State Penitentiary.

2003: Man 'snapped'

Daniel Jantzen, 56, told a courtroom he "snapped" when he walked into Sharon Hatcher's trailer in Valley City and began firing a semiautomatic weapon. He killed Hatcher and two others, and injured one.

The 56-year-old former meth user and gun collector claimed he went there because he was upset about Hatcher's drug use, but a state's attorney called it jealousy. Jantzen and Hatcher had been in an on-and-off relationship.

Jantzen was ultimately sentenced to three concurrent life terms in prison.

Grace Lyden

Grace Lyden is the higher education reporter for The Forum. Previously, she interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2014. She welcomes story ideas via email or phone. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com.

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