It’s been seven months since a sunny afternoon erupted with gunfire at a Grand Forks apartment complex. The May 27 shootout that jolted the community started as an eviction service and ended with two people injured and two dead, including Grand Forks Police Officer Cody Holte. The suspected shooter, Salamah Pendleton, is accused of firing 41 rounds from an AK-47. If he's convicted, he faces life in prison.
The tragedy still resonates in the community and state. Earlier this week, during his annual State of the State address, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum hailed Holte as a hero.
"Amid the unpredictability of 2020, the brave men and women of law enforcement carried out their daily responsibilities. Among them was Grand Forks Police Officer Cody Holte," Burgum said during the address, also noting that Holte served in the National Guard. "Our freedoms are built on those who uphold the rule of law, who run toward danger when others run away from it. On May 27, Officer Holte did just that. ... We'll never know how many more might have perished in that building if not for the swift and selfless acts of Officer Holte and his fellow officers and deputies."
Burgum noted that Holte's name will be inscribed on the Peace Officers Memorial on the North Dakota Capitol grounds. He called it a "a permanent reminder of his remarkable act of bravery."
"Cody's legacy of service will live on forever in the hearts and minds of North Dakotans," Burgum said.
Although the coronavirus pandemic dominated the news like no other issue, the Herald – which traditionally notes its top stories at the end of each year – opted this year to pick stories that were not specifically related to pandemic numbers or the direct response to the surge.
Holte's death has been determined by the Herald to be the top non-COVID Grand Forks area news story of 2020.
According to a police account of the incident, two Grand Forks Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the apartment around 2 p.m. on May 27 to enforce an eviction notice. Court documents show that Pendleton and his roommate, his mother Lola Moore, owed about two months of unpaid rent and had allegedly violated the lease by smoking on the premises on two occasions. When Pendleton did not open the door, the deputies gained entry, and Pendleton opened fire. Two Grand Forks police officers responded to the deputies’ call for backup.
Pendleton and Grand Forks Sheriff’s Cpl. Ron Nord were both injured in the exchange of gunfire. Moore was killed in her apartment. Holte was rushed by ambulance to Altru with gunshot wounds to his chest, but died of his wounds. By the end of the day, two families had been left shocked and grieving.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, Grand Forks lit up with blue lights and signs bearing Holte’s badge number, 639. Community members gathered for candlelight vigils, fundraisers, processions and memorial walks. Hundreds of people attended Holte’s funeral at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and a charitable fund was set up in Holte’s name.
Now, the Grand Forks Police Department is raising funds to send about 40 officers to Washington, D.C., for National Police Week, where Holte will be honored in a ceremony along with all the other officers who were killed in service this year. In a recent interview with the Herald, Deputy Police Chief James Remer said that as of the end of December, the department had raised about $77,000 out of the $84,000 they will need for the trip, scheduled for May. Any additional funds raised will go to the Cody Holte Memorial Fund.
Pendleton remains in custody at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center. He is facing a slate of charges for the shootout, including two counts of murder, which carry maximum sentences of life in prison without parole if he is found guilty. He will appear for a jury trial that is set to run for three weeks in June and July.
Other top stories from 2020, listed in chronological order:
Grand Forks teen killed in Northwood
According to court documents, Borth's father, Perry, was in the basement when his son was fatally shot on the floor above him. As Perry attempted to give Jonah aid, his son told him that Wilson shot him when he attempted to give her a hug. In August, Wilson was deemed mentally fit to stand trial, and she is next scheduled to appear in court for a motion hearing on Jan. 29.
Global Hawk mission reaffirmed at GFAFB
Amid announcements that federal budget cuts could retire 24 surveillance drones, 2020 started with concerns that an end to the Global Hawk mission at the Grand Forks Air Force Base could be in the cards. Those concerns never came to fruition though – a 319th Reconnaissance Wing spokesperson said that the cuts wouldn't affect the day-to-day operations of the base, and that appears to have remained the case. In fact, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., met with city leaders last fall to discuss expanding the Global Hawk mission.
After spinal injury, Hunter Pinke inspires
After UND football player Hunter Pinke's spine was injured in a ski accident in Colorado, he spent roughly the first 90 days of 2020 undergoing physical therapy in Denver. When he returned home to Grand Forks, he inspired the town with his faith-based, day-by-day message of positivity and growth. He recently completed his first semester back at UND and was named a senior captain on the Fighting Hawks football team. He was named the Herald's 2020 Person of the Year.
Altru's difficult year
The Herald last reported that construction of Altru's new hospital was on schedule in September 2019. By December, Altru had announced its construction plans would be scaled back. In 2020, construction of the hospital was halted altogether.
The hospital was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a tumultuous year for an institution some said was already in a tenuous position. Two top hospital leaders were fired in early 2020, and the hospital later announced deep cuts to procedures and finances, including layoffs for 167 workers. In October, the Herald reported that the city will help Altru refinance up to $50 million worth of debt, but the hospital has not yet given any date when construction of the hospital might resume.
School Board votes to close West Elementary School
The Grand Forks School Board started the year with a decision not to close West Elementary School, an aging school with a dwindling student population and a growing number of deferred maintenance projects. But a month later, the school's 160 students and staff were evacuated for emergency mold remediation.
After unacceptable levels of radon were discovered in the building, the School Board last spring recommended the school remain closed through May 2021. Last month, the school district's Facilities Task Force said renovation at the school is no longer considered an option, and recommended the school close permanently and consolidate with two other elementary schools.
Foster parents accused of killing 5-year-old
The community of Tokio, N.D. – near Devils Lake – was left shocked and grieving after 5-year-old Raven Thompson was killed while in the care of her foster parents, Erich and Tammy Longie, whose house burned down shortly after their arrest. Raven's brother, 7-year-old Zane, was also hospitalized. Their father, Aaron Thompson, said he was left seeking answers with little success from Spirit Lake Social Services.
An autopsy showed that Raven had signs of blunt force trauma. Her death sparked a wave of protests and activists bringing attention to the high number of Indigenous women and girls who experience violence. The Longies are set to appear for trial this summer.
Greater Grand Forks joins George Floyd marches
On May 25, a teen caught on video a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, who died as onlookers watched. That video sparked one of the largest racial justice movements in the U.S. since the Civil Rights Movement.
In early June, hundreds of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks residents joined demonstrations. The movement also prompted local law enforcement to revisit their own policies and procedures and inspired a group of local women to found the state's only chapter of the NAACP.
Airmen killed in murder-suicide on the Grand Forks Air Force Base
In the early morning hours of June 1, Airman First Class Natasha Aposhian was shot and killed in a dormitory on the Grand Forks Air Force Base in what court documents have confirmed was a murder-suicide, and what her family has called an act of domestic violence.
In light of abuse and violence against other female service members across the U.S., lawmakers have requested a congressional investigation into her death. Another Grand Forks airman was indicted and later court-martialed for illegally purchasing the firearm used in the shooting.
Retail continues to spiral in Grand Forks
At the beginning of the year, city and business leaders discussed redeveloping the mall, but those proposals appear to be in limbo, leaving remaining business owners in the mall concerned for what the future might hold. The closures are part of a longtime trend in Grand Forks, beyond just the Columbia Mall, which for now shows no sign of slowing.
Bochenski beats Brown in mayoral race
In June, after a mayoral campaign season upended by the pandemic, Grand Forks developer and former professional hockey player Brandon Bochenski unseated longtime incumbent Mike Brown with promises to encourage business growth and to keep taxes low. Six months into his first term, he appears to be working to keep those commitments.
UND provost randomly murdered weeks after retiring
The UND community was shocked this summer when longtime provost Tom DiLorenzo was murdered in Charleston, S.C., six weeks after retiring from UND. DiLorenzo and his wife were downtown when they were allegedly robbed by three teens while on a morning walk, according to local authorities.
After his death, the UND Alumni Association and Foundation established the Tom DiLorenzo Memorial Fund.
140 years later, Grand Forks murder victim memorialized at site of lynching
After a Black man was dragged by a mob and hanged off a Grand Forks railroad bridge in 1882, the Herald reported that no mourners were present following his death. Hoping to do their part to help right past wrongs, dozens of present-day Grand Forks residents held a memorial service for the man, Charles Thurber. At the September service, a plaque memorializing the site of the lynching was unveiled after decades of failed attempts to make the memorial a reality.
Upper Plains producers record a nearly perfect harvest
After the 2019 harvest brought poor yields and much heartache in the Grand Forks region, 2020 took a turn for the better. Producers enjoyed a dry season with few rain or snow interruptions, resulting in a notably positive year for durum, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, lentils and corn.
East Grand Forks business defies governor, opens during pandemic
A ban on in-person dining in Minnesota aimed to curb rising coronavirus numbers originating in public dining rooms, which Gov. Tim Walz says are among the hot spots for the virus in the state. However, some restaurant owners say the order has left them in an untenable position.
In December, the Boardwalk Bar and Grill in East Grand Forks, owned by Jane Moss, was one of the first restaurants in the state to open in defiance of the governor's order, a movement that gained traction statewide. Moss has since made national news, calling on businesses to open regardless of restrictions.
In recent weeks, East Grand Forks has approved aid for local businesses struggling due to the pandemic, and a protest of the governor's order is planned for this week. Moss' legal battle with the state remains ongoing, though Walz has eased some of those restrictions.