Platte Family Died by Shotgun, Not House Fire; Father Managed Accounts for Audit-Flagged Ed Coop

What’s worse than a house fire killing six family members? Learning that the family didn’t die from the house fire, but from the father’s shotgun:

Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today the preliminary autopsy results have been released in connection to the house fire that occurred in Platte, S.D. on Thursday, September 17, 2015. Preliminary autopsy reports indicate that cause and manner of death for Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael Westerhuis were homicide by shotgun wounds. Cause of death for Scott Westerhuis was shotgun wound with manner of death as suspected suicide based on the current investigation findings [Attorney General Marty Jackley, press release, 2015.09.21].

Odd—the last time Attorney General Jackley investigated the suicide of a public official in south central South Dakota, it took him a month to issue autopsy results. In that 2013 case, the body and the weapon were found lying on open ground. In this case, in which investigators had to use cadaver-searching dogs to find the remains amidst the burned ruins, the Attorney General was able to issue an official conclusion (e-mailed to the press after 10 p.m.) on the cause of death in less than five days.

Scott Westerhuis
Scott Westerhuis

Scott Westerhuis had been business manager for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative based in Platte for 15 or 16 years. His wife Nicole worked for the coop as well. Mid-Central and Westerhuis made the news in May when Bob Mercer reported that the Department of Legislative Audit found trouble with Mid-Central’s handling of a 4.3-million-dollar federal grant for the GEAR UP American Indian education program. Schoenfish and Company of Parkston (which employs Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, R-19/Scotland) audited Mid-Central’s FY2014 operations and found material weaknesses but no compliance issues. The report noted that “Errors and omissions were noted in the annual financial statements prepared by cooperative officials. This is the eighth consecutive audit in which similar deficiencies have occurred.”

Mercer indicates that the state Department of Education also caught heck in an audit for lacking strong financial controls over Mid-Central’s administration of those GEAR UP dollars. According to Mid-Central’s December 11, 2014, minutes, the coop overpaid $214,000 over five years on salaries and other expenses and had to pay that money back to the state, which in turn had to pay back the feds. Those salaries included cash for two former state officials:

The audit also found two prominent advisors on GEAR UP were paid for months when they hadn’t submitted what are known as effort logs showing what they had been working on.

The two were former state Education Secretary Rick Melmer and former state Indian education director Keith Moore. They served in those posts during the previous administration of Gov. Mike Rounds.

Since at least the summer of 2012, Melmer received a stipend of $1,000 per month to serve on the Mid-Central’s GEAR UP committee, and Moore received $4,000 per month to be the committee’s chairman.

Mid-Central submitted their stipends as expenses to be reimbursed by the state Department of Education. The state department, however, didn’t require proof that the two worked.

According to the state audit of the program’s operation for 2014, they didn’t submit effort logs for the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year covering the months of July, August, and September of 2013. The fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.

The audit found their first logs were submitted Oct. 28, 2013.

Scott Westerhuis, the Mid-Central business manager, said Thursday that time cards hadn’t been prepared for Melmer and Moore prior to the Oct. 28, 2013, date.

Mid-Central charged the state Department of Education a total of $32,570.83 for Melmer and Moore for that period of nearly four months, according to the audit [Bob Mercer, “SD Audit Finds Unusual Activities in GEAR UP,” Pierre Capital Cournal, 2015.05.19].

Mercer also reported questionable accounting on software purchased for the GEAR UP program.

The audit also questioned whether Mid-Central provided the required matching amount of $3,567,649 for the GEAR UP contract period from Sept. 26, 2012, through Sept. 25, 2013.

Mid-Central in defense claimed $4,000 of value for each of 500 computer software products provided by Microsoft.

The auditors countered that the software was listed for public sale at $499.

The state Department of Education contended in response that each of the Microsoft products was valued at $300,000 per student [Mercer 2015.05.19].

I get the feeling we may be hearing more about this audit of Mid-Central’s and the state’s oversight of this federal money.


87 Responses to Platte Family Died by Shotgun, Not House Fire; Father Managed Accounts for Audit-Flagged Ed Coop

  1. Well someone has to say it, another ‘responsible’ gun owner in America.
    Heartbreaking. So much likeness to the Minnetonka shootings last week. Why do men have to take the whole family with them?

  2. well i’m sure the cause of all this, like EB5, was rounds’ lax oversight and then 96’s ficticious “state execution squad” came in to clean up, just like “Pulp Fiction”.

  3. Daniel Buresh

    Jenny, the same reason why women try to take the kids in a divorce….power and selfishness. Gun or not, the outcome is the same. Yes Jenny, someone had to make the illogical correlation. Congrats on being ignorant.

  4. larry kurtz

    Easy, DB: if Jenny wouldn’t have cited the link between despair and easy access to firearms, i would have.

  5. larry kurtz

    And Marty’s selective forensics is just another example of red state collapse.

  6. Jenny – when someone is so disturbed that they feel their family will be better off after death, I’m doubtful we can find logic to explain it. I concur that in the vast majority of cases when you see a murder-suicide it is the man who is the murderer. Oddly, we do hear of cases where a woman murders her own children (recall the woman who drowned all of her kids in a bathtub, or the woman who drove her car full of children into a lake before escaping herself) – but the thing is the woman generally doesn’t kill herself when she is done.

    I’m sure there are psychologists who can study these issues and opine on why the sexes react to these events in different ways, but clearly in all cases these people needed mental help before it got to this point. I wish there was a way for us to predict and prevent these types of incidents, but I don’t envision a “Minority Report” type scenario within my lifetime an thus all we can do is react to the events after the fact.

  7. when the simple means to kill is right there, just pull the trigger on the family pheasant gun, then guess what, guns kill people.

    likely this gent was a responsible gun owner not too long ago. then temptation set in, as it does with all of us.

    ignorant, daniel-really?

  8. “Gun or not – the outcome is the same” – Just the kind of strange response you’d expect from a ‘responsible’ gun owner.

    Responsible Gun owners don’t realize the destruction and lifelong sadness, anxiety and grief they cause to the thousands of people that are left to suffer from the after effects of these catastrophes.
    Responsible gun owners have the power in their hands to demand a better mental healthcare system but they choose not to do so.
    They choose to hide behind the NRA and make love to their guns.

  9. Daniel Buresh

    Larry, I would have pointed out just how dumb that was as well. ATF was involved in this investigation. Pointing out what you think are Jackley’s failures at investigating crime scenes only shows your lack of knowledge on the entire process. When 6 people die in a fire, you are going to get a lot of outside authorities coming in to help. Yep Leslie, you should probably re-up your supply of tinfoil.

  10. Daniel Buresh

    Yeeeeaaaaah, mental health failures fall on gun owners and they have the power to change that. Wow….The stupidity that emanates from your mouth is amazing.

  11. larry kurtz

    Marty releasing these results at breakneck speed but dragging his feet on Benda is suspicious as hell and easy access to guns accelerates the wildfire of mass murder in the US. What part of that is so dumb?

  12. mike from iowa

    There weren’t any trees to complicate Jackley’s mind and there is a good chance the perp wasn’t pheasant hunting in the house. I’d think you could narrow the timeline down if you allow the fire took one day and then another to cool down enough for cadaver dog search. That leaves 3 days.

  13. Daniel Buresh

    “Marty releasing these results at breakneck speed but dragging his feet on Benda is suspicious as hell ”

    Yes, in the tin foil world that is suspicious.

    “easy access to guns accelerates the wildfire of mass murder in the US.”

    Most domestic violence deaths have nothing to do with guns.

  14. Daniel, it is true. The NRA is a very powerful organization in this country and could take the lead to reform mental health, but you’re too ignorant to realize it.

    Leslie, Larry – don’t bother with Buresh. He’s obviously suffering from ammosexuality. Ammos start sweating and heart rate increases erratically and paranoia will start setting in before long with ‘ol Buresh. I don’t want him to suffer a heart attack so I’ll back off.

  15. Daniel Buresh

    If anyone takes a lead at reforming mental health, they will be fighting against those who let them all out of the looney bin to begin with. Personal rights still trump the collective when it comes to personal afflictions, either known or unknown. The NRA couldn’t do jack shit to effectively address mental health. Yep, my ammosexuality causes me to look past an inanimate object and realize the person is the problem. Stay in MN please….or better yet, move to Chicago or Detroit and impose your beliefs on them. They have an entire culture that needs reforming.

  16. larry kurtz

    Justifying the murder of a family as a personal choice with assaults on our collective concern is simply horrifying, Dan.

  17. The power the NRA leader would have to be able to address millions of men and tell them to get a mental health check, take care of your family, do the right thing. The NRA could be the sensible voice to millions of men that suffer from depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, anger issues. No this isn’t farfetched at all. Men would listen to their NRA leaders more than their own family doctors.

  18. Gun violence in this country is at epidemic proportions, right now. The NRA has successfully lobbied lawmakers to NOT study gun violence. Why would that be?

    “We” are getting to the point now that we just shrug our shoulders when people are victims of gun violence. “We” just say, “oh, that’s too bad”, and then life goes on. Just as the NRA and gun nuts want to happen.

    DB – “most domestic violence deaths have nothing to do with guns” ……huh? Between 2001-2012, over half of women killed by men were done so with a gun. Most gun violence that occurs now, has nothing to do with defending oneself. People pull out guns to “settle disputes”, “make a point”, “suicide”, or as tragically as described above…… Wiping out their entire family.

    In a country, and specifically this state that claims that they are pro-life, yet do nada to try to reduce needless and preventable death, is mind blowing.

    That “we” as a country just sit on our hands and not want to do anything to reduce gun violence is perplexing. DB – NRA/gun nuts have been telling me for several decades that the Dems are coming to “take my guns”. Well, hmmm, I still have my guns and no one has knocked on my door or forced their way into my home to “get my guns”. (in other words, people fall for the propaganda like lemmings.

    But to Cory’s point on this story. This whole thing stinks and there will indeed be more to follow here. And the irony pointed out (quick autopsy results versus dragging of the feet with Benda case) is amazing. South Dakota is loaded with cronyism and lack of oversight – and it is a wonder that South Dakota is rated as one of the most corrupt states in the country. This kind of thing just keeps on happening!

  19. mike from iowa

    If memory serves it was Saint Ronnie Raygun who threw open the asylum doors and forced the mentally ill into the streets.

  20. larry kurtz

    More deaths where the Board of Regents is a player: even Mercer is weirded out by it.

  21. bearcreekbat

    Why would someone murder his wife and kids before committing suicide? I don’t know the religious views of Scott Westerhuis, but I am afraid one answer may well be a religious guy’s belief in an afterlife that will be better for himself, his wife and his kids. While the myth of heaven makes some folks feel better, it can lead others to commit heinous acts to speed up the transition from life on earth to life in the sky.

  22. Can we NOT make this about gun control please? Some of the comments posted about this are just outright silly.

    This is a tragedy – let’s not use it for political gain. I’m not about to blame the NRA for these events nor am I going to blame Ronald Reagan, Pheasants Forever, President Obama, or the Platte dog catcher. I do believe that most gun owners in America lie somewhere in between the two extremes regarding ownership, but that nothing to do with the deaths of the Westerhuis family because any assumption about motives or means is just that… assumption. We have no idea if the lack of a gun would have ended this situation differently nor do we know if any type of mental health reform and/or background checks would have prevented it.

    What we do know is a family is dead, and by all accounts it appears five of those family members are victims here. I didn’t know this family, but I doubt you are doing them any favors by using their deaths to push a political agenda and some of these comments are tasteless.

  23. larry kurtz

    The Second Amendment guarantees a man’s right to assassinate his family: it’s just that simple.

  24. mike from iowa

    NRA is to blame. They lie about libs taking your guns and they refuse to negotiate on gun control. They demand all and have proven they are more than willing to lie to get it.

  25. I’m not on a political agenda. We’re all just sick and tired of hearing and seeing these tragedies everyday in this country.
    I want men to not be afraid to see a counselor or doctor to talk about their problems. There’s needs to be major mental healthcare reform in this country with an emphasis on men getting the care they need, and it needs to start when they’re little boys. I see this all the time in the ER where males are on suicide watch b/c of life’s stressors. They don’t get the care that’s needed until they’re in crisis mode. This is wrong. We need more counselors and psychiatric doctors, I mean major, major reform. But no, I’m just on a political agenda.

  26. mike from iowa

    Some responsible gun owner in Florida was going to shoot some puppies he couldn’t get rid of. One puppy took it upon himself to stand his ground and shoot the responsible gun owner with his own gun.

    A 91 y/o responsible gun owner nutjob pulled a gun and threatened to kill a landscaper who accidently got some grass clippings on the old goat’s car. He was subdued and taken to a nearby hospital which wouldn’t treat him because he threatened to get his gun out of his car and shoot them at an earlier date.

  27. Newsflash – everyone is tired of hearing about these types of cases, but what is your solution? It seems many here feel the NRA is to blame, but what is that based upon? We know little about what transpired here or what led this man to murder his family, however based upon what we do know it doesn’t appear he was a criminal, it hasn’t been reported that he was suffering from some known mental disorder or that he had a history of violence.

    So what is the solution? It seems some are so quick to pull the “gun control” card, but how exactly would that have worked here? We can pass and strengthen legislation to prevent felons from owning firearms, we can pass gun registration laws, we can pass strict standards for mental health and background checks, but there is ZERO evidence to indicate any of that would have prevented this case. The only viable solution which may have prevented it would be an entire ban on firearms of any type, because this wasn’t an assault rifle, this wasn’t an illegally obtained concealed weapon designed to kill people. It was a shotgun – commonly used for hunting, thus it seems Westerhuis used what he had available.

    If someone holds the view that all guns should be illegal that is fine, but I don’t find that realistic and that is a non-starter politically. Not only do we have a second amendment, but we also have a public which overwhelming still supports an individual right to ownership of firearms.

    So yes some restrictions are good ideas and no not everyone should have access to firearms – but I still don’t see how that is related to this case unless someone is making assumptions about something yet to be revealed. Thus people are just using this as an excuse to push a political viewpoint.

    If you want to talk about mental health then great let’s have that conversation, because it is safe to assume that a man who would murder his entire family including young children clearly without question was suffering from a mental health issue. I doubt we will ever be to the point we can predict human behavior as we are very much an unpredictable species, but perhaps we can take steps to make treatment for mental health more commonplace, and perhaps those steps would have a measurable impact – but are we going to sit here blaming the NRA or whoever for the social stigma of mental health in this country? I dare say that defies logic and will never lead to actual solutions.

  28. let’s get back to the point here. this happened less than a week ago, and the investigation is complete? one could come to the conclusion that the investigation was over before any of this even happened. seems too easy to kill someone, and then burn all the evidence.

  29. Cory, it only took the MSM an entire day to figure out what you posted this morning. But us bloggers are NOT media or Journalists in SD. I would agree, I would never want to be compared to their lazy ass reporting.

  30. Donald Pay

    Maybe everything is above board, but it seems as if there are a lot of Republican mucky mucks making money off federal contracts. For being really opposed to all the “deficit spending” and wanting to end the Department of Education, we see top Republican officials in Round’s administration skimming all those federal dollars from a Department of Education grant. Maybe the reason there aren’t sufficient controls going on these contracts is that highly connected people are raking in the big bucks. Ah, yes, being a Republican in South Dakota and climbing to mucky muck status comes with lots of perqs. I hope we don’t find out that some innocent children died in the end, because some Republican mucky mucks were getting paid for not doing any work. Maybe there ought to be some law that ex-top officials can’t get these sorts of sweetheart deals.

  31. Deb Geelsdottir

    Craig made some good comments around his “don’t talk about the NRA” rejoinders. Jenny’s last comment nailed it. Read again:

    “I want men to not be afraid to see a counselor or doctor. . . major mental healthcare reform . . . men getting the care they need . . .start when they’re little boys . . don’t get the care that’s needed until they’re in crisis mode . . . more counselors and psychiatric doctors.”

    The NRA does have a role, if not a direct one in this particular case. LaPierre and the gang need to stop blocking and limiting background checks. In fact, the NRA needs to campaign for full and thorough background checks. They need to ask Congress to rescind laws NRA wanted that limited the amount of information that can be checked and the amount of time records of such checks can be maintained. The NRA needs to ask Congress to stop allowing automatic and assault weapons being sold, large capacity ammunition clips, and any other items that provide for the fast killing of dozens of Human Beings.

    I grew up hunting pheasants, deer, waterfowl and pests like gophers and jackrabbits. (Jacks were once thicker than fleas on a dog in central SD.) None of those proposals have any effect on hunting. Nor do they perfectly solve the problem. They are simply common sense. (I don’t think I’d want to eat the remains of a pheasant that had been blasted out of the sky with a sizzling stream of lead via an AR-15.)

    Lastly, the NRA could give itself a sterling reputation among all Americans by funding research into why men are the overwhelming majority of family annihilators and why men outnumber women by an extremely lopsided majority in murdering their spouse/girlfriend/significant other/baby mama.

    If the NRA took those steps to save lives and preserve a healthy gun culture, I don’t know who wouldn’t be on their side. I know I would. The question is, could LaPierre stand up to his gun manufacturers/owners?

  32. mike from iowa

    Mental health isn’t the big problem. The big problem is extremely easy access to guns of all kinds in America. NRA couldn’t abide the prevention of straw purchases of guns,which the Scotus said is illegal. http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/291553-key-provision-of-gun-bill-could-be-stripped We are averaging a mass shooting per day in the states. NRA opposes all gun control legislation and has the political muscle to scare wingnuts into upholding NRA Sharia Law.

  33. Deb Geelsdottir

    Lastly, Jenny mentioned mentioned a family murder/dad suicide last week in a ritzy MN metro suburb. 3 children and their mother were murdered. The catalyst was connected to finances again. That’s one of the more common ones.

    I’m very sorry for the friends, family and loved ones of both families. They will endure powerful consequences for years to come.

  34. Well I can’t say I didn’t try. I guess when you walk around with a hammer everything starts to look like a nail. Reminds me of the anti-abortion people who complained about the outrage at Cecil the lion being killed as they saw it as people ignoring the “murder of babies” but getting all worked up about a dead lion.

    Some things just aren’t connected.

  35. Deb Geelsdottir

    Yes, Craig, I can say you didn’t try to respond to my first comment. It is reasonable, thoughtful and clear. I am interested in your response and waiting for it. Please don’t duck out.

  36. I cannot/will not join the gun debate here, but let me just say that most of you are missing the point! But since 96% of those who have commented are totally off topic, let me try this…

    How different would this conversation be if the headline had read that a husband murdered his children and wife, then committed suicide because his company was refused the Girl Scout Cookie contract because of problems with the audit where his company may have paid non-Girl Scout members to do Girl Scout business, clearly defrauding the Girl Scouts? I think the response would be, “What really happened here? Who are these people who worked for a company that ripped off the Girl Scouts?”

    But no, sadly, its just about some Indian Education program the SD State Dept. of Ed. is the fiscal oversight for; also a program where some hundred children attend a summer program with at the SD School of Mines and Technology every summer. And this involves a contract non-renewed to a person writing the checks and overseeing the fiscal management of a company who conclusively may have defrauded the Native American students for which the federal funds were intended? I don’t think I am Sherlock Holmes here for thinking we have a “fall guy” (no longer) in our midst who took a violent way out and his family with him (if he indeed, did inflict his own wound.)

    Sadly, the only response of this in SD and in the “mid-central” area will be the issue of gun control… I do, however, think Craig may have gotten the point.

  37. The irony of the speed of the Jackley autopsies (Benda/Westerhuis) had occurred to me shortly before I ran across this article. I might appear ignorant by asking this question, but so be it…Why DID the Benda one take so long, and the Westerhuis take minimal time? Also, I can understand why the AG office announced the other one, but what is his office doing involved in the Westerhuis autopsy? Don’t attack me for being ignorant…I admit it…I am.

  38. I’m with Lynne. Are we sure Scott Westerhuis pulled the trigger? Did he also set his house on fire… and if so, before or after he pulled the trigger?

  39. owen reitzel

    People who know me know that I’m not a fan of the NRA. But in this case the NRA shouldn’t be brought up. It looks like it’s a case of guy with financial problems and for whatever sad reason he decided to kill his family and then himself with a shotgun. Sad, sad story.

    Dana asks a great question. What did the autopsies take one day and Benda take months? Curious

  40. Bob Mercer reported that Melmer and Moore “run” other contracts for Mid-central. It seems like the state in EB-5 and this and I’m sure other pass thru are playing the good ol boy game that exists to a level in Pierre that the good republican voters of south dakota just refuse to recognize. Instead rounds and thune and noem all run around saying Obama is the real problem and SD people jump up n down . Until south dakota voters are more educated and objective about their state politics tragedies like this will continue. …unless they don’t get caught. Sad. Ugly

  41. mike from iowa

    It is never a good time to bring up the NRA. If not now-when?

  42. And there is more for Moore. He ran BIA education foe two years. Was a total disaster. He n Brian Drapeau tried to slide a contract to Drapeaus old employer ( a pierre company!) This is a fact. Interesting that the month after he left BIA he started getting Mid-central payments. Wonder what went on when he was State sec of Education? The mentality he took to BIA in DC …didn’t go over well there n he was ousted.
    I feel for Benda n Westerhuis , don’t think they were alone in their mistakes, they just couldn’t live with the truth. Messed up.

  43. owen reitzel

    Normally Mike I would agree with you and I’d be with you all the way. I just think in this case it really doesn’t apply.

  44. Steve Sanchez

    That report reads to me as though the firm performing the audit documented only the most basic of information with regard to deficiencies, significant deficiencies and the one recurring material weakness while repeatedly taking the CYA approach in explaining the purpose of the report. Plainly stating their consideration of internal control over compliance was for a limited purpose, not designed to identify all deficiencies and pointing out that material weaknesses may exist that may not have been identified seems an easy way out of any possible liability for the auditing firm. Disclosing more detailed information may or may not (OK probably wouldn’t) have precluded the firm from future auditing opportunities. As it is, such a report might be considered a bit of a pass by some, who would then not be inclined to change anything about their accounting and compliance practices. At what point does a recurring material weakness such as this become required reporting to the AG or the Feds pursuant to Government Auditing Standards?

  45. South Dacola

    “I’m with Lynne. Are we sure Scott Westerhuis pulled the trigger? Did he also set his house on fire… and if so, before or after he pulled the trigger?”

    Yes Cory, and was the very long stick to pull that trigger burned in the fire? I see two NCIS scripts here. One, state officials pressured Scott into suicide after telling him he was toast (Federal Prison) or what you suggested. Just speculating, but isn’t it strange . . . oh nevermind.

    BTW, I won’t be hunting by myself this year in the Platte area.

  46. i don’t buy state murder conspiracies (law enforcement has integrity), but find it interesting that SDGOAC audit comittee again did cursory reviews, as i understand it, of a rounds era education (remember Regents/NSU/bollen pass thru of $100,000.000-$600,000,000 economic development) laundry.

  47. Steve, you are right on there are audits to meet the legal requirements. ..and then there are the books. Generally two different things. OR at least in my experience anyway.

  48. larry kurtz

    These murders send a pretty strong signal to anyone who might be considering blowing the whistle on South Dakota’s 1 percenters.

  49. “Bob Mercer reported that Melmer and Moore “run” other contracts for Mid-central.”

    “Interesting that the month after he left BIA he started getting Mid-central payments.”

    According to the google, Moore quit the BIA to became state director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and per their website is still employed as such. Sounds like he was either getting paid for doing nothing, or working for someone else while on the FCA’s dime.

  50. happy camper

    Oh Larry. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

  51. Consider this from KELO-TV:

    Melmer tells KELOLAND News that for the first three months he and Moore worked for Mid-Central, they were not told to fill out time cards and that’s why three months of each of their pay had to go back to the state [Angela Kennecke, “Audits Led To Canceled $4.3M Contract Before Platte Family’s Deaths,” KELO-TV, 2015.09.22].

    What does it mean when someone tells an employee not to fill out a time card?

  52. Nice house…wonder how they paid for it!!!

  53. …and this from the Mitchell Daily Republic:

    “It’s hard for us to determine exactly if (Scott Westerhuis) started the fire, but that’s the only thing that makes sense,” said Sara Rabern, Jackley’s spokeswoman [Candy DenOuden, “Platte Reeling from Westerhuis Autopsy Report,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.09.22].

    Dare I say that I can think of other explanations that make sense?

  54. Funny interview with Melody Schopp, Director of Education. Shame on you KELO, how dare you ask a nice GOP lady about that MidCentral Ed Coop mess . Shame on you.

  55. Deb Geelsdottir

    I’m with you, Jenny and Mike. Weapons do play a major role, and so does mental illness.

    As I asked in another comment, what makes men afraid of getting psychological help and what makes them family annihilators? We’re talking about mass murder! Whether it was the father or a mysterious assailant, the issue is more than a shady business deal.

  56. larry kurtz

    murder in the heartland 2.0

  57. “Nice house…wonder how they paid for it!!!”

    ———-

    He inherited a lot of land.

  58. Steve Sanchez

    Right, Spike. It seems audit reports like that one hardly serve as a deterrent when one – or many – in SD considers going into the shady, no record business practice of converting public funds into their own or passing along to friends.

    “What does it mean when someone tells an employee not to fill out a time card?” – Cory, it means there are successful businesspeople in SD who understand that the Office of the AG is not interested in prosecuting similar cases of fraud. Someone issues a check. Someone cashes a check. The state continues the pattern of happily receiving and distributing federal funds each year to ensure it can happen again the next year. The folks in Pierre are content.

    Lastly, an individual engaged in fraudulent business practices would not have the opportunity to kill his entire family, set fire to their home and then kill himself if he were sitting in a jail cell somewhere immediately upon learning the state gravy train had dried up and was being turned over to some other outfit; not with a long or short gun, not with a match, not with a feather duster. Of course, the possibility of someone doing those horrible things would still exist upon posting bond. The AG’s office could follow the state’s lead when it comes to mandatory counseling and 72-hour waiting periods, not including weekends, but I still don’t see it happening. The fleecing of America is still more important than prosecuting fraud in SD.

  59. @deb – I didn’t realize I had a duty to respond to every comment, but since you asked I agree with you (and Jenny) in that we should do a better job of removing the social stigma surrounding mental health care. We have a lot of work to do in that regard, and although I do believe anyone capable of murdering his own family is/was struggling with mental issues it is also quite possible that this was a singularity triggered by stress surrounding the business and future audits. There is no way to know if there were warning signs or if some treatment could have helped.

    The remainder of your post diverges down the path of connecting this to the NRA. You mention automatic weapons, assault weapons, AR-15s, high capacity magazines etc. but none of those have anything to do with this issue. The man used a shotgun – and unless the goal is to ban all firearms I see no logical way you would keep a shotgun out of the hand of someone who has no criminal record and didn’t have a pattern of violence etc. (at least none that has been reported). Thus I don’t feel the NRA issue applies here – but people jump to support their team at any chance, so I’m not surprised that people immediately starting pulling out the gun control card.

    As to the others who are starting down this path of conspiracy theories that seem to suggest Scott Westerhuis might have been murdered and this is all some type of cover-up I can only say that you are the type of people who disgust me. First of all we have Occam’s razor, thus no reason to suspect anything but the most obvious conclusion. Second, to believe this is some massive cover-up would suggest multiple people involved who have no concern over the murder of six people – four of which were young children. Really? That is really what you think is possible here as opposed to them taking the easy way out and staging a suicide in a remote office or shelterbelt somewhere? Why risk the potential of one person escaping to tell the story or an alert neighbor or even a web streaming security camera (much more common than you might think) catching the action? These crazy theories defy logic, and they tend to remove responsibility from Scott Westerhuis but placing him in a role of victim rather than psychopath. I’m not buying it, and until we have some firm evidence which likely doesn’t even exist, I won’t entertain the idea.

    Jenny and leslie seem to be looking towards the most obvious answer and the one that doesn’t require nearly as much stretching or assumption. Perhaps mental illness isn’t as much fun to discuss with friends and coworkers, but it obviously makes a lot more sense than some wild and insulting idea that this entire family were treated as disposable and an entire community turned upside down in order to cover up some potential fraud.

    The caskets aren’t even in the ground yet and we already have people trying to fabricate (and yes that is an accurate term) their own version of events to make this into more than it should be. I’m sure the entire extended family, the network of friends, and the entire community of Platte who is now grieving over the loss of their six loved ones will appreciate all the concern being expressed in their direction.

  60. Daniel Buresh

    “What does it mean when someone tells an employee not to fill out a time card?”

    I believe it says they were never told to fill out a time card. It doesn’t say they were told not to fill out a time card. There is a difference.

    No amount of regulation is going to stop a perfectly good person who has a mental breakdown from doing something rash or absurd. Past mental health history is asked about when purchasing a gun and if they lie, there really is no way to check that since HIPPA and other privacy laws protect those individuals. Those records are not open to other gov’t agencies. The NRA has nothing to do with medical record privacy laws. I’m with Craig and that there is nothing short of removing all guns that would have stopped this.

  61. larry kurtz

    Even if Marty boxes out of the investigation of these murders does the sheriff of Charles Mix County have conduct one anyway? If federal laws were broken the US Attorney has to look into it: right?

  62. Daniel, when was the last time you went to a doctor and talked about any problems (physical or mental) you were having? Same with all the other guys here. I know you don’t have to reply to my question, but I can about guarantee you that probably the far majority of men here have not seen a doctor in years.
    Men will barely go see a doctor for routine health checks, so forget men going in for emotional/mental health problems. Men in this country won’t go for mental health.

    That is wrong and it desperately needs changing, which is why I turn to the NRA. Important mental health service announcement could be started by the NRA educating men about how to deal with stress. The AMA and ANA and other reputable medical organizations could all come together on this. This is all common ground I think we could agree on.

  63. Pardon me, Daniel—I did shift that “not” one space over. The word placement you point out matters. Thank you.

  64. Daniel Buresh

    Jenny, I’ve been to the doctor enough and we will leave that at that.

    Men don’t go for mental health checks the same reason women strive to look beautiful. The opposite sex finds the opposite of those as unattractive. Much of what we do is much about how the opposite sex thinks about it and its more about the psychology of the problem, rather than access or even funds.

    The NRA has very little, if anything to do with responsible gun owners. Heck, I don’t think I could name one of my many hunting partners who is even a member. Most support local entities for conservation and much more reputable orgs have taken their place, like the rocky mtn elk foundation. You would do more good by trying to change the perception of obtaining mental health care by acknowledging that it is much more do with the perception of “manliness” in society and how women interpret that. A similar movement is taking place in how we perceive women. Change the perception on men similar to how they are changing the perception on women, and you might have something. You aren’t telling unattractive women that their insecurities are the problem and not society, so why would we expect anything different for men? Until that changes, our genes and society says the toughest lion gets control of the pack.

  65. Same kind of field around this murder scene as was on Benda’s. Marty is now on the trail of some kind of twig that could have been used to discharge the shotgun. Don’t worry, he will find it. These murders with shotguns, all seem kind of familiar when it comes down to missing moolah. Moolah lost strayed or stolen from the state and miraculously found with the death of the fall guy. How do the other players fit into the scheme of things? Will they be like Joop and Rounds, able to get off with their millions with no worries?

  66. mike from iowa

    Until voters finally get rid of the Keystone Kops that run the state and state law enforcement,you would be wise to be suspicious of every word or action attributed to wingnuts.

  67. larry kurtz

    Marty said DCI is lead and if the feds aren’t already involved in the investigation they will be soon.

  68. Most comments address valid information, and I appreciate this. However, I’m still looking for answers to my questions:
    Why DID the Benda autopsy take so long, and the Westerhuis ones take minimal time?

    Why is the AG office involved in the Westerhuis autopsies?

    I appreciate any answers or direction to look elsewhere. Thanks.

  69. Most women want men to get help for their mental problems these days, DB. Women don’t want angry, unstable men, so I don’t know where you’re coming from. The highest rates of suicides in this country are men in the 55-65 middle age group. Why are middle aged men killing themselves? Do they think their masculinity is gone because they’re getting older, is it losing a job? We need to come to terms as a society and reach out to these men and get them they help they badly need.

  70. Daniel Buresh

    Jenny, there are societal pressures that shape the behavior of both men and women. That is all I am saying. Women don’t want an unstable and angry guy, but that doesn’t mean society doesn’t say they should pursue the tough, chiseled abs guy. Everyone wants to date the quarterback, not the free safety. At the moment, gender equality is concentrating on the feminine side and it sounds like they could be educating people on the male societal pressures as well. Women aren’t the only gender who are being manicured at a young age to fit a specific mold, be it school, tv, movies, or whatever the influential factor is. The female side may be a bigger issue at the moment since they are behind a bit, but that shouldn’t discredit the smaller ones men are facing, especially when those can affect everyone. I don’t feel the NRA should be leading a so-called feel good campaign to make men more in touch with their emotional selves and willing to put those insecurities aside and seek help. Then again, perfectly good people who snap are lacking coping skills, which I think is a direct result of not allowing people to fail and realize there is nothing wrong with that. The everybody is winner aspect doesn’t work when in real life you are ultimately going to fail at some point. We shouldn’t look down on failure or make it something that ostracizes people to the point that they feel like they can’t go on when it does happen. This doesn’t appear to be a drawn out mental decline, but a more drastic mental breakdown.

  71. mike from iowa

    Dana,seriously,if you want answers you will have to extraordinarily render the AG Jackley and waterboard him to get the answers you seek. Dead men tell no tales and neither do wingnut cronies.

  72. Steve Sanchez

    Not even one rebuttal to my argument that the Office of SD’s Attorney General is less interested in prosecuting acts of fraud and embezzlement than ensuring federal monies continue to roll in and be disbursed among folks who are not the intended beneficiaries? I’m curious to know what the correspondence was between the decision makers and the auditing firm. Even if, per the Government Auditing Standards, the auditors weren’t required to notify state or federal law enforcement about these recurring material weaknesses, it seems logical that the Dept. of Education would have wanted to discuss the audit findings with Schoenfish and Co. before taking the action it did. All roads lead to cronyism thriving in SD. This being the case, I’d argue that redistribution, when necessary, is supposed to happen quietly and without penalties imposed on the wrongdoer by the state.

    Let’s be honest here. Why would anyone imagine this tragic outcome being the result of the State of SD’s decision to take one contract from an organization and give it to another? It’s unthinkable. It absolutely is! But, perfectly sane people are capable of taking drastic, irrational measures when confronted with harsh realities such as this.

    Like I said before, give the wrongdoer time to sit in a cell and cool off. He might even try to get right with his maker or contemplate how to return home with any sort of believable explanation for what he has done before then deciding on a course of action with legal counsel.

  73. Dana, I don’t think we’ve ever had a comparative explanation from any public official for the varying lengths of autopsy times… or more specifically, Jackley’s willingness to release the preliminary results of the Westerhuis autopsies within days of the crime but his refusal to say anything about Benda’s death for a full month.

    “Why is the AG office involved in the Westerhuis autopsies?” Well, his general duties include “To prosecute state officers who neglect or refuse to comply with the provisions of statutes of this state prohibiting officers of the state from accepting any money, fee, or perquisite other than salary for performance of duties connected with his office or paid because of holding such office and the statute requiring issue and delivery and filing of prenumbered duplicate receipts and accounting for money received for the state,” but he also says there was no criminal investigation before the fire.

    The simplest explanation is that Jackley’s DCI is providing forensic services to support local law enforcement. The cynical explanation is that this is a big case, and the top cop has a chance to be on camera.

  74. Steve, in the Benda case, it is much easier to imagine that the circumstances—cut off from EB-5 cash cow, handed a cushy job in Madison taking orders from Russ Olson, facing a grand jury and indictment at the hands of his old friends in Pierre—could have led to the action the state says happened—solo suicide in an empty farm lot.

    In this case, the circumstances we know—an audit a few months ago showed some problems, and the state cancelled a contract not with Westerhuis specifically but with the ed coop for which he works—and the action the state says happened—man shoots entire family, sets house on fire, shoots self—are much harder to connect. Jackley says Westerhuis was not under investigation prior to the fire. As far as we know, Westerhuis’s job was not in danger:

    Mid-Central’s total revenue for the current budget year is $10.5 million.

    Mid-Central Superintendent Dan Guericke said he knew of no financial issues facing the couple and Scott Westerhuis’ employment would not have been in jeopardy because of the loss of a state contract.

    “It would not have led to him losing his job,” Guericke said.

    Scott Swier, an attorney whose firm represents Mid-Central, said he had no reason to believe Scott Westerhuis committed any wrongdoing before the incident last week. The Westerhuises were both still employed by Mid-Central at the time of the fire. He said he couldn’t comment further on personnel issues [Dirk Lammers, “Officials: South Dakota Man Killed Wife, 4 Kids Then Himself,” AP, 2015.09.22].

    Besides, look at his house. I’ve heard the house was something like 7,000 square feet. Whatever the size, that’s quite the spread. The money he was making as a business manager for the coop didn’t pay for that house. He had to have some other awesome income stream that would have buffered any impact on his financial/family situation of his employer’s loss of the GEAR UP contract.

    The logical conclusions would be either (1) the GEAR UP contract meant much more to Westerhuis’s livelihood than we know, or (2) the contract cancellation coincided with some other much greater misfortune that led to this death and destruction.

  75. Oh, Dana! You might find this comment from Jackley relevant to your question about announement timeframe:

    As they searched the scene of the fire, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says investigators found a shotgun and shells. A K-9 unit also discovered evidence that an accelerant may have been used to fuel the fire. As soon as he had proof that no one else was in danger, Jackley alerted the public.

    “We wanted to make sure the community knew that while this is a tragedy, this has been isolated and there would not appear to be any evidence of any further danger to the community,” Jackley said [Brady Mallory, “Marty Jackley Talks About Platte Investigation,” KELO-TV, 2015.09.23].

    Now that’s odd: back during the Benda investigation, I’d say there was more concern that a killer might be on the loose around Lake Andes than there was during the past week that some arsonist must be on ther loose around Platte. Was anyone rumoring that the Westerhuises had been murdered the way the rumor mill spent the week’s after Benda’s death talking about Mafia hits? I think I even made the argument during November 2013 that Marty Jackley had an obligation to either alert the public to the anger of a murderer on the loose or assure the public there did not appear to be foul play as soon as possible. But in that case, where the evidence was all lying out in the open on the ground, not burned up in a fire, Jackley still waited a month.

  76. KELO also reports the Westerhuis property was worth $1.3 million. They confirm the house was 7,600 square feet. They also support what I heard from another source, that the north building has an NCAA regulation size basketball court, plus a whole lot of other luxuries.

    http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/westerhuis-13m-property-and-non-profits-that-took-grant-money/?id=185344

    Westerhuis clearly had some other source of income than MCEC. Just like Joop Bollen and his Egyptian antiquities and Richard Benda and his trips to the Philippines, Scott and Nicole Westerhuis were bringing in some serious bacon from some unknown source.

  77. Thanks for your answers. Concerning the Westerhuis income, he was a known land-owner, so there was income from that. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

    Thanks again.

  78. Any idea how much land? (Dang it, Charles Mix County, put your property tax database online!)

  79. Steve Sanchez

    Yes. Thank you, Cory. It’s still my position that a lot of things have to happen in order for one group of people in the state to misappropriate so much money and do it so well. There are checkpoints where public and private entities work together to make sure fraud and embezzlement does not happen, and if it does, to correct it. All of these people are dead when, in my opinion, at least a handful or more should be facing trial or sitting in prison. Instead of making sure the system works properly, there appear to be far too many doing what they can to make sure it does not.

  80. Steve, I agree: just like with Benda, one guy doesn’t make off with the treasury unless a lot of other guys either help carry or don’t look.

  81. This tragic event runs deep into SD political and educational veins! I am from SD and still have many great friends in your state. I have been in education for over 30 yrs and have been an administrator for over 20 yrs. I know many of the people who have been mentioned that might have “ties” to this unreal event. Iknow how these grants work and it absolutely impossible for one individual (and wife) to funnel millions of dollars through these means. There are many people involved SD and as I said earlier “i know these guys!” Keep peeling back the layers and you will shocked at what you find!!! The fire to the house was not accidental either. A message was sent! Why wasn t the basketball facility torched?I have an answer for that but will save it.

  82. Clyde, I’ll take your answer via email if you like. Hi my contact form above, and tell me what you know!

  83. who knows about his heirship of land? let us know where his wealth came from. who he influenced with it. how far it goes back. INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM in this day of cyber bullsheit news reporting. this is a life-time opportunity to expose mental illness or criminality.

    craig-“this issue”: a dollars worth of lead, 1-10 minutes, pheasant gun, 360 years of life snuffed, every bit of evidence destroyed with one match and $2.67 of lawnmower grass.
    other kids’ lifes’ education f**ked. I am reasonable, as you mentioned, however you aren’t and have no business here starting a gun fight.

    we don’t know the details yet, but are you gonna waste everbody’s time here with an esoteric republican argument. insult people who want life, security and peace in their home town while you defend assault rifles, extended clips, and fancy ammunition and every other micro-issue about oily rifled 3000 fps “assassinators” that almost nobody gives a sheit about unless they have a weapons fetish, practically. nobody cares about lawn mower gas can regulations either. they all just know how inherently dangerous they are. listening to you is like hearing somebody spouting a constl rt. for gas gans in the back seat of every car.

    this is much bigger than you and your oversensitivity toward “your god given constitutional ‘right’ to ride a harley around town mid-day with a revolver on your hip” threatened by some peace seeking person who wants a solution to gun death after gun death after gun death in THIS nation, not other nations. I just threw in the harley ’cause one just went by, a skin head, well dressed, coulda been a plain clothes cop, and two other blackn’whites drove by at about the same time. this is west blvd.

    Your right never even starts until you take complete responsibility for your DUTIES (concept from B.C. canadian tribal chair)-never to threaten another life. when do you want to shoot somebody-war, revolution, cop at your door under a vile liberal government, defense at midnight when the drunk best friend knocks on your window and your son shoots him in the face?

    and the kid walks. nice ‘right’. works for zimmerman. works for cops that shoot 12 year old black kids in less than 10 seconds, ect., ad nauseum. it doesn’t work for the rest of us and NRA is the problem, congress is in mortal fear. Idiotic. It’s like you people are afraid of slaves uprising and getting guns. if you are scared here, immigrate. take NRA with you. guns do not make for a civil society. the greatest society so far, arguably. if you wanna regulate ’em, fine, have fun with your toys. at the range. far, far away. THAT is the duty of everyone in a civil society.

    don’t drive down my block showing yer f**kin’ gun.

    this post is dedicated to my 1st son.

  84. lonnie and sandy phillips, aurora theater shooting v. nra, 9.25.15 huffpost ($250,000 atty fees judgmt against parents)-graphic death