Community encouraged to lean on each other

Pastors, schools,  community advocates sources of help during tragic times

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Following the shock of the news of the shooting of cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nicholas Brady, 17, during an alleged burglary at a Little Falls home, Pastor Keith Thompson said it’s time for the community to come together.

Three families and their friends are hurting and have a lot of questions; not just the victims, he said.

Thompson is the pastor of Living Hope Assembly of God Church, where funeral services for the teens were held Saturday, Dec. 1.

“As a community, we need to make sure we are here for one another, to be sensitive to people who are grieving, to care for them and to love them,” he said.

“Little Falls is a great community, and it’s a place where families live and encourage each other, a community of faith and I believe faith helps us get through these times.”

Thompson said he met with the families of Brady and Kifer Nov. 25, to minister to them and pray with them. “Just being there for people who are grieving; it’s not always what you say, but being there as support and taking the time to listen,” he said.

“And certainly with families of faith, to encourage them to recognize that God is with them to help them through … God understands our grief and sorrow and sympathizes with us during our sorrow,” he said.

Thompson encourages people to find a trusted person to talk things over with and to take care in what is said, not promoting gossip or slander.

Little Falls Superintendent Stephen Jones said attendance was up at Little Falls Community Schools Tuesday, the first day of class after the school’s holiday break.

School is where students feel safe, said Jones.

Sarah Jendro took this photo of students Keeley Lindberg, left, and Kristina Richards, during a Nov. 25 vigil for Haile Kifer and Nick Brady. Jendro is a student at the Continuing Education Center (CEC), where Kifer was attending school for her senior year.
Photo courtesy Sarah Sophie Jendro Photography

In fact, while not planned by the school district, a memorial vigil was held at the high school football field, planned by kids through social media.

“We really feel kids wanted to be at school, where they feel safe and secure and able to talk to people about some pretty difficult stuff,” he said.

“Kids are shocked; they are stunned by what they are hearing,” he said. “That’s presented some very difficult things for kids to process.”

Counselors are encouraging students to talk about their feelings, said Jones.

“They have to come to grips with this through their feelings. We’ve really stressed to kids to laugh, share memories and that it’s OK to cry,” he said. “Those are all normal emotions we feel during a tragic incident.”

Kifer finished her junior year at LFCHS and was a member of the school’s swimming and gymnastics team. She was completing her education this year at the Continuing Education Center (CEC).

Brady attended Little Falls Schools and after completing his sophomore year, transferred to Pillager High School, where he was a junior.

Jones wants families to know that the help is “not a one-time deal.”

“These are consistent things that we will be doing throughout; as long as needed,” he said.

Jones said families are welcome to reach out to the school for help.

“If they (families) see something in their kids that doesn’t look like they’re handling things well, they can contact us,” said Jones. Parents may contact the office of the school their child attends.

The superintendent said staff at the district’s high school, middle school and the three elementary schools, want to be as proactive as possible.

A mother of 12, ages 29 – 9, Jan Weidenbach of Little Falls encourages parents to talk with their kids. Her twin sons, seniors in Little Falls, went to school with Brady and Kifer, for years.

“My kids have talked about it — and there’s sadness and it’s like, ‘What can we do to help the families and other friends?’” she said.

And the questions come, she said, when they say, “They’re kids, Mom, they shouldn’t be dead.”

Weidenbach has noticed kids are getting together more, sending more texts, talking more on Facebook and among themselves.

Jan Weidenbach who has children who attended school with Haile Kifer and Nick Brady said he has noticed kids are getting together more, sending more texts, talking more on Facebook and among themselves. Kids gathered together at the high school football field Nov. 25 to remember Kifer and Brady.
Photo courtesy Sarah Sophie Jendro Photography

“They’re trying to be supportive to each other; some kids are taking it so hard,” she said. “You can see the sadness. ‘We’re supposed to be getting ready for holidays’ my one son said. ‘Thanksgiving will never be the same for all of these families.’”

Kids are trying to figure out how people deal with this, she said.

She said kids also have empathetic feeling for Byron Smith. “They are concerned about his family, how they are feeling,” she said.

Having dealt with a child in trouble in her own family, Weidenbach said her children certainly understand it could have happened to one of their own.

A substitute paraprofessional in several school districts, who works with the “Circle of Parents” support group, Weidenbach has talked with many parents.

“They’re worried; they’re fearful for their own children,” she said.

Parents need to make sure their children feel that they are safe and that there is support in adults, she said. “Whether it’s the school, you as a parent/caregiver, clergy — there are all kinds of people out there willing to talk to these kids.”

She said she has experience in the outside community and inside her own family.

Weidenbach’s daughter-in-law graduated from Recovery Plus with Kifer earlier this year, she said.

“You have to support your child, whatever struggles, whatever battles they have in their life, you need to let them know you care and you love them no matter what and there is help, and the first step is showing them where that help is,” said Weidenbach.

“If they’re struggling with an addiction, we have social workers, counselors, and help in the county,” she said.

“These two didn’t deserve to die, but we all know they shouldn’t have been where they were,” she said.

Weidenbach considers herself a resource if someone is in need or is struggling with a family member.

She welcomes calls at (320) 267-3790. Those who do call, may remain anonymous, she said.

A memorial fund has been set up for the families of Nick Brady and Haile Kifer, at Pine Country Bank. Donations can be dropped off at branches in Little Falls, Bowlus, Rice and Royalton.

To contribute by mail, send checks made out to the “Nick Brady and Haile Kifer Memorial Fund” to: Pine Country Bank, P.O. Box 528, Little Falls, MN 56345.