Authorities on Tuesday charged a Minnesota teenager with murdering two convenience store clerks at separate stores in northern Iowa.
Michael Richard Swanson, a 17-year-old from St. Louis Park, Minn., was charged as an adult with two counts each of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in slayings in Kossuth and Humboldt counties.
Swanson appeared in a Kossuth County courtroom and was ordered held on $1 million cash bond. He was assigned an attorney from the state Public Defender's office in Fort Dodge, but officials from the office declined to comment.
Kossuth County Attorney Todd Holmes said during a news conference in Algona that Swanson walked into the Crossroads Gas Station on U.S. Highway 18 in Algona just after 9 p.m. Monday wearing a ski mask and demanded cash and cigarettes from the clerk, 47-year-old Vicky Bowman-Hall. Holmes said Swanson shot her even though she complied with the request.
About an hour later, Swanson walked into a Kum and Go convenience store in Humboldt, about 30 miles south of Algona and shot and killed Sheila Myers, 61, who died at the scene, Holmes said.
The teen said he shot both clerks intentionally so that they would not call authorities or identify him, the Des Moines Register reported, citing an affidavit filed in Kossuth and Humboldt counties.
Holmes said it appears Swanson acted alone and that no link was found between the stores where the shootings occurred. He declined to disclose some details about the shootings, including whether others were in the stores at the time or why Swanson was in Iowa.
Swanson, who was driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, was arrested at a McDonald's in Webster City, about 60 miles from where the first shooting occurred. While authorities did not say how the teen got the Jeep, Minnesota records show a 2002 Jeep registered to his mother, Kathleen Swanson, the Des Moines Register reported.
Lisa Abens, director of operations for Wessles Oil Company, which owns the Algona gas station, said in a written statement that Bowman-Hall, an assistant manager, followed company policy when confronted.
"She did everything correctly but was still the victim of a senseless act," Abens said.
Bowman-Hall's daughter, Julia Krug, 24, said her mother had 11 children, ranging in age from 5 to 27. She said her mom was the "rock" of the family, working 60 or more hours a week.
"She never asked for anything from anybody," Krug said.
She also said her mom was a wonderful grandmother to seven grandchildren.
"She would have them over at her house on weekends and make them pancakes in the middle of the night if they wanted them," Krug said.
Krug said she made it to the hospital before her mother died, making the decision to take her off life-support.
The court complaint, published on The Des Moines Register website, says Swanson told police he shot the clerks so they could not call police or identify him. Officers recovered the stolen money and cigarettes as well as a handgun when they arrested Swanson, the affidavit said.
A phone message seeking comment left Tuesday at Myers' home was not immediately returned.
Calls to Swanson's parents' home number rang unanswered. The Associated Press also submitted a request to speak to Swanson with the Kossuth County sheriff, who oversees the jail.
Swanson pleaded guilty in July to motor vehicle theft for a crime that happened when he was 16, Hennepin County attorney's office spokesman Santo Cruz said. Information about that case is public because the charge was a felony, though other details about Swanson's record aren't public because of his age, Cruz said. St. Louis Park is in the county.
'Kid has a lot of problems'
Swanson was recently released from the Hennepin County Home School after serving more than 100 days for the theft, said county spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan. She said probation officials received a call Monday from St. Louis Park police that Swanson was missing.
Wendy Sulzer, a neighbor of the Swansons, said she was "a little shocked" but not surprised that the teen would be accused of the killings.
"This summer I said this kid has a lot of problems," Sulzer said Tuesday. "It's kind of freaky. It doesn't surprise me that he's in trouble."
If convicted of first-degree murder, Swanson would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.