Shaw: Anger, grief persist for officers, families forever changed by Medina shootout
Five law enforcement officers were injured and another was traumatized by the horrors of the 1983 Medina shootout. Surviving officers and family members share their pain.
MEDINA, N.D. — Six law enforcement officers from North Dakota risked their lives when they participated in the Medina Shootout on Feb. 13, 1983. Five of them were shot, and the other was permanently traumatized.
On that day, officers attempted to arrest Gordon Kahl, a 63-year-old anti-federal government farmer who was wanted for violating conditions of his parole. Gordon Kahl, his son Yorie Kahl and Scott Faul got into a shootout with U.S. Marshals and local law enforcement near Medina, about 30 miles west of Jamestown.
Yorie Kahl and Faul were convicted of murder less than four months later and sentenced to life in prison, where they remain. Days after the trial ended, Gordon Kahl, who had been on the run, was fatally shot by a sheriff in Smithville, Arkansas.
Now, 40 years later, memories of the shootout near Medina remain vivid and painful for the loved ones of those who took part and the officers who survived.
'The friendliest person'
North Dakota U.S. Marshal Ken Muir, of Fargo, was 53 years old when he was shot to death. He left behind a wife, three children and five grandchildren. Three more grandchildren were born after he died.
Muir graduated from high school in Fargo, worked for the Fargo Police Department for nine years and then served in the Marshals Service for 24 years. He planned to retire from the Marshals Service in 1984 and open a framing business.
“He was a loving and supportive father,” said Richard Muir, Ken Muir's son. “He was the friendliest person you could find.”
“My father was a kind and loving man and dedicated his life to his wife, children, grandchildren and his job as a United States Marshal,” said Laurie Muir-Riley, daughter of Ken Muir.
Although their father was in law enforcement, his death was still a shock.
“I never thought something like this could happen to my father,” Richard Muir said.
“I wish with all my heart that my father would have been there for all of life’s moments and guide me on my path in life,” Muir-Riley said. “I needed him to be my rock, as he was as I was growing up.”
Ken Muir's children have never gotten over the void in their lives after their father was killed.
“I have longed for my father’s wisdom, love, and wish every day he could meet my children,” Muir-Riley said. “I miss my dad with all my heart.”
“I have missed him,” Richard Muir said. “Sometimes, I look at his picture and say, ‘Dad, why did you have to leave?' I still don’t understand it.”
'A wonderful family man'
Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Cheshire was 32 years old when he was shot to death. He had a wife and three young children. Two of those children are now deceased. One of them, Jeremy, was killed in 1993 by a drunk driver. He was just 15 years old.
Cheshire grew up in San Mateo, California. He started his career in law enforcement in 1972 when he joined the Foster City, California, Police Department. In 1973, he joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia, and Adak, Alaska.
In 1977, the Cheshires moved to Bismarck. He graduated from Bismarck State College, and after training at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy, he was sworn in as a deputy marshal in 1978. Cheshire was also a first lieutenant in the North Dakota National Guard.
The Cheshire family declined to comment for this story, but his daughter, Kristen Cheshire Heineman, wrote in a message to me, “Thank you for reaching out. … I am not sure I have a ton to share since he passed when I was 2 years old, but his death definitely impacted and continues to impact the lives of my family.”
Dave Peterson was a close friend of the Cheshires when they lived in Bismarck.
“Bob was always friendly, somewhat quiet, but knew how to joke around,” Peterson said. “He was a wonderful family man. He loved and was devoted to his family.”
Peterson, a former federal prosecutor, said Cheshire was highly regarded by his peers.
“Bob was a top-notch law enforcement guy,” Peterson said. “He was a great servant of the law. He took his job very seriously.”
Peterson said he will never forget his reaction to Cheshire’s death.
“We were stunned to hear this. Just shocked,” Peterson said. “It was an absolute tragedy for his family and his community.”
Forty years after the shootings, Peterson still thinks of his good friend.
"Every time I drive by Medina, I think about him," Peterson said. “It never goes away. We miss him.”
'I wanted to be like him'
Deputy Marshal James Hopson, 59, was shot in the head and ear, suffered major brain injuries and was never the same again. He was married with four children and seven grandchildren.
Hopson grew up in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. He was a talented French horn player and was drum major in his high school band. He was a Marine in World War II, served in the South Pacific and fought in the brutal battle of Iwo Jima.
He was a traffic officer in Wisconsin for 11 years and then served as a deputy federal marshal for 12 years, with stops in Milwaukee, Tucson and Bismarck.
“He was a loving father,” said James Hopson’s daughter, Cheryl Hopson. “He was very proud to be in law enforcement. There was never a stranger he wouldn’t talk to. We were very proud of him and loved him very much.”
“I always felt safe and protected when he was around. He was a loving and wonderful man,” said Joan Kowalski, James Hopson’s daughter. “He was always lifting you up no matter what you did. He made me feel good about what I accomplished.”
“I was super proud to be his son,” said James Hopson’s son, Gary Hopson. “He was a wonderful teacher and a great father. I wanted to be like him.”
Everything changed on Feb. 13, 1983.
“Mom called that Sunday night and said, 'Dad’s been shot,'” said James Hopson’s son, Mike Hopson. “I was shocked. I thought he was pretty safe in North Dakota.”
“I put down the phone and screamed, ‘No! No!’ at the top of my lungs. I was in disbelief,” Gary Hopson said.
James Hopson was not expected to live but somehow survived. Still, life for Hopson and his family became a nightmare. He stopped talking and could barely walk, hear, see, smell or understand what people were saying to him. He had no choice but to immediately retire from the Marshals Service.
“It made you so sad to see this man you looked up to just reduced to a shell of what he was,” Kowalski said. “It was heartbreaking. There was nothing there. The smile on his face was gone, and it never came back.”
“It was very sad. Dad became an invalid who needed 24-hour care,” Cheryl Hopson said. “It changed mom’s personality. She didn’t trust people anymore.”
Amid all this were the family’s constant battles with the government to make sure James Hopson received the benefits to which he was entitled.
“My kids got robbed of the grandma and grandpa era,” Gary Hopson said. “It turned mom into something she wasn’t. It was just so wrong that mom had to fight for my dad.”
“Mom and dad were going to buy a small motor home and see the country. That was the dream,” Mike Hopson said. “Mom never complained or let on how much she was hurting.”
James Hopson died in 2004 at age 79. His wife Doris Hopson, died in 2017 at age 88.
“I will never make peace with that day,” Kowalski said. “It took my dad. I’m grateful he’s at peace. For him to have to live in pure Hell, I can never forgive the shooters or forget what they took from all of us.”
'I lost three partners'
Deputy Marshal Carl Wigglesworth, of West Fargo, was shell-shocked for life from his experience at the Medina Shootout.
Wigglesworth grew up in Paris, Kentucky. He served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, then became a deputy marshal in 1972. He worked in Washington, D.C., where he guarded Presidential Counsel John Dean and Federal Judge John Sirica during the Watergate trials.
Wigglesworth transferred to Minot in 1979 and started working in the U.S. Marshals Service office in Fargo in 1982. In his spare time, he was a volunteer coach for youth football, soccer and basketball teams.
In the shootout, Wigglesworth chased Scott Faul into a slough and fell into water up to his knees. Wigglesworth was the law enforcement officer who first discovered what happened to his fellow marshals. He called in to report the deaths of Ken Muir and Robert Cheshire and the severe injury to James Hopson.
“On Feb. 13, 1983, the old Carl died,” Wigglesworth said to me in 1993 during an interview for WDAY-TV.
“Carl was a wonderful man,” said Wigglesworth’s wife, Diane Neubauer. “He was very caring, a great dad and a great husband. Medina did change him.”
Wigglesworth tearfully said, “What really bothered me the worst is when I came around the back side of the Ram Charger and found Bobby Cheshire in the position he was in. That bothered me worse than anything. He had no head. From his eyes up, it was gone. Nothing there.”
Wigglesworth went through years of counseling and suffered insomnia, headaches and flashbacks.
“I think about what happened every day,” Wigglesworth said. “I lost three partners. You just can’t forget that.”
Wigglesworth died in 2005 from cancer. He was 71.
'Lucky to be alive'
Former Medina Police officer Steve Schnabel, 62, was shot in the thigh and recovered. As much as he tries, he can’t get the shootout out of his system.
“It’s still there 40 years later,” Schnabel said. “I don’t want to think about it. … It wasn’t a good plan. People died, and in the end, they didn’t get Gordon Kahl.”
Schnabel was shocked when he and the entire Medina Police Department were fired shortly after the shootout.
"The mayor took it upon himself to do it," Schnabel said, noting it made him feel terrible. "We think he thought if he fired us and got rid of us, all his problems would go away.”
After initially having a hard time getting a job because of his connection to the shootout, Schnabel moved to Fargo and has worked for the same business for 38 years. He considers it a blessing that he is still here, since Gordon Kahl could easily have shot him to death.
“I don’t know why he didn’t shoot me, but I’m glad he didn’t,” Schnabel said. “I consider myself pretty lucky to be alive.”
Former Stutsman County Deputy Brad Kapp, 66, was shot four times. He was hit in the hand, chin, chest and above the left eye. Eventually, that eye had to be removed.
"I think a lot about the incident," Kapp said. “It will always be in my mind. I feel terrible for the families of the marshals.”
He retired from law enforcement in 2012, worked in the oil fields for eight years, and now works as a private investigator with his wife.
Like Schnabel, Kapp could have been shot and killed by Gordon Kahl. The man's rifle was pointed at Kapp at close range.
“I feel very lucky to be alive. I don’t know why Gordon didn’t shoot me,” Kapp said.
As Kapp reflects on the shootout, he’s convinced it shouldn’t have happened, and he’s bewildered how a group of people felt justified to take up arms against the government.
“I’m still angry at Gordon Kahl and the other shooters,” Kapp said. “It didn’t need to come to this. Nobody likes taxes, but you shouldn’t shoot people over it.”
Kapp didn’t know any of the marshals before the shootout, but he’s had strong admiration for them ever since.
"The marshals were just doing their job," Kapp said. “Those marshals that were killed or shot were the true heroes that day.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described why authorities were trying to arrest Gordon Kahl on Feb. 13, 1983. He was wanted for violating conditions of his parole.