No matter what kind of day a person was having, seeing Grand Forks Police Officer Cody Holte could brighten it, said Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson. That’s the kind of person Holte was.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Nelson said.
Holte, 29, died Wednesday, May 27, from injuries sustained in a shootout in Grand Forks earlier that day, when he responded to a call for assistance from Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office deputies. He had worked for the police department for three years and three months.
Holte, a Hendrum, Minn., native, leaves behind his wife of four years, Mandy Holte, and a 10-month-old son, Gunnar. According to a wedding notice published in the Herald in 2016, Holte is a 2010 graduate of Norman County West High School and a 2015 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with degrees in criminal justice and military service. He was a member of the North Dakota National Guard.
Holte’s wife declined to be interviewed for this story. So did other family members.
But Nelson, holding back tears, spoke plainly about what a loss Holte’s life and service is to the department and to the Grand Forks community.
“If I had to pick a word, it would be ‘servant,’” he said. “He served his country, he served his state, he served his community, he asked for nothing in return, and made everybody around him a better person. In a nutshell, that was Cody.”
Holte was the second person to die in a gunfire exchange Wednesday afternoon in Grand Forks, which was initiated when Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Cpl. Ron Nord and Sgt. Kelly McLean attempted to serve an eviction notice to the tenant of 1267 S. 17th St. No. 303. According to police reports, the tenant, Salamah Pendleton, 41, open fired on the deputies, who called for assistance. Holte and GFPD Cpl. Patrick Torok both responded to the call.
Pendleton sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was transported to Altru Hospital. The apartment’s other tenant, Lola Moore, 61, sustained fatal injuries during the course of the shooting. Charges have not been filed, but Grand Forks County State’s Attorney Haley Wamstad said charges are forthcoming.
Nord, a U.S. Air Force veteran and 34-year member of law enforcement who has been known to advise officers on the dangers of serving eviction notices, suffered gunshot wounds to his upper leg and abdomen.
Grand Forks County Sheriff Andrew Schneider said that personnel at the sheriff’s office miss Nord, but they’re thankful he will be coming back.
“Every morning he’s walking through the hallways of the sheriff’s office whistling Christmas carol tunes. It’s July, Ron,” Schneider said. “He’s always the happy-go-lucky guy, always a smile on his face, asking how you and your family are doing. He’s recognized as one of the hometown heroes of Grand Forks. He serves a very legitimate purpose in our office, and right now we’re missing him dearly, but we’re going to get him back. We’re thankful and blessed that we’re going to get him back.”
Hours after the shooting, hundreds gathered in the Altru Hospital parking lot for a vigil to honor Holte and the other victims of the shooting.
Paul Knight, a pastor at Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, led a prayer for all involved, including those who he said he believed were wicked.
“They had families too,” he told the crowd.
But the focus of the event was on Holte, although he had not yet been officially named when the vigil was held, and the rest of Grand Forks law enforcement.
“We appreciate everything they do,” said Lauralee Tupa, who organized the vigil. “We’re here for them. We hope they know how loved they are. ... Grand Forks is a beautiful community. We’re very sorry to everyone who lost their lives.”
Knight said the event came together quickly, a testament to the strength of the Grand Forks community. He said Tupa reached out to him Wednesday afternoon with the idea, and he announced the event to his large follower base. News about the event spread throughout social media, but few expected such a large turnout.
Candles were lit in the center of the Altru Parking lot at 9:30 p.m., and the hundreds of spectators gathered to listen to Knight’s prayer. The prayer was briefly interrupted by an Altru administrator, asking the demonstrators to practice social distancing, but the vigil otherwise went on without incident. The prayer finished with members of the crowd raising flashlights to honor the victims of the shooting.
After the event, Grand Forks law enforcement officers led their own procession of silent flashing lights to escort Holte’s body from the hospital to the coroner’s office. As the ambulance carrying his body drove by, hundreds of people lined the street to watch him go.
Nelson said he’s considering ways to memorialize Holte, but first, his priority is to give his 109 other employees and their loved ones support and space to grieve.
Incidents like this will always shake law enforcement officers as well as their community, he said.
“We have now went from last night, having a Grand Forks police officer who gave his life in the line of duty, to now knowing that that officer’s name is Cody Holte. One of my officers, one of my family, who gave his life,” Nelson said. “Officer Holte was known by many names: Cody, Officer Holte, Badge No. 639. But maybe most importantly, a dad, a husband, a son, a brother, a valued community member. As we work through this, we’ll work through the details of the case, but I am telling you the lasting impression when you walk out of this room is I want Cody Holte on your mind, because he’s on my mind 24/7.”