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Arrest of former student shocks Fosston

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Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Trent Benson was the sort of young man who was named captain of his high school swim team in Fosston, Minn.; who kept in touch with classmates years after graduation, commiserating when they lost loved ones; and who sent Christmas cards each year to his coach.

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But Benson, 36, was jailed a few days ago in Mesa, Ariz., charged as a serial rapist and kidnapper and the murderer of two women.

He awaits trial on the charges.

Benson grew up in Fosston, graduating in 1990 in one of the largest classes in school history, with 63 students, said Prudence (Bitker) Shereck, who graduated with him.

"He was a very nice kid, active in school," Shereck said Friday. She's e-mailed him back and forth in recent years, mostly sharing a joke or two, she said.

After her husband died in 2005, Benson e-mailed her with sympathy, Shereck said.

"I saw him in 2006, just briefly, when he was home for Christmas," she said.

Shereck and others in Fosston find this week's horrible news hard to understand.

Early this week, prosecutors in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and Mesa, charged Benson with kidnapping and sexually assaulting four women and murdering two of them. It could become a death penalty case.

Alisa Marie Beck, 21, was found strangled in a Mesa alley in November, 2004. Three other women were sexually assaulted last fall, including Karen Campbell, 44, who was found naked and strangled on a Mesa street.

Beck and Campbell were transients, drug-users and prostitutes, police told the Arizona Republic.

The two other women included one who last August was sexually assaulted and then escaped and one in November similarly assaulted, beaten and apparently left for dead.

Benson was arrested May 14 at the Mesa store he owns and operates, Water-N-Ice, and police seized his white car.

Police linked Benson to the assaults with DNA evidence, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper.

Phoenix police also said this week Benson was arrested in 1997 for propositioning an undercover female cop posing as a prostitute.

Nobody remembers Benson being any kind of troublemaker in high school.

"He was an average kid who came from a tremendous family and upbringing," said Pat Hanlon, Benson's swim coach. "He just seemed like one of those kids you would expect nothing but the best from throughout his life."

Hanlon still coaches the girls swim team; the boys team "faded away" about a decade ago, he said.

Shereck, who also lives in Fosston, echoed what several there said about Benson.

"He wasn't quiet. He was outgoing," she said of her former classmate.

Like Hanlon, she heard this week the news of Benson's arrest in Arizona for horrible crimes and read online the stories in the Arizona media.

"Everyone is just shocked because that's not the person we knew," she said.

Benson's parents own the NAPA auto parts store in Fosston, and adopted several children, including Benson, as well as having children of their own, say friends and townspeople.

Trent was adopted from South Korea as a baby by the Bensons, Hanlon said.

Benson, in fact, kept in touch with his old coach.

"I was always pleased to get Christmas cards from him every year and occasional phone calls, stating he was doing well," Hanlon said. "He knew that we had adopted kids as well."

Benson had married, divorced and was working to get custody of his 7-year-old son, Hanlon said. "He was very proud of this child he had, who had come into his life."

Benson was one of his best, Hanlon said. "He was an excellent swimmer, a very hard worker. I felt he was a very good captain. He demonstrated his ability by showing his leadership. He was an average-sized kid, a strong kid who seemed to enjoy life, to be honest with you."

Benson previously worked in car sales in Arizona, the Republic reported. Court records show he obtained sole custody of his son, and an order of protection against the boy's mother after he claimed she was an unfit parent, according to the Republic.

Fosston is holding an all-school reunion over the July 4 weekend, and Benson e-mailed some classmates this spring to say he couldn't make it, Shereck said.

"Hello all," Benson e-mailed some classmates in early April, according to the Arizona Republic. "I'm glad to hear that everyone seems to be doing well."

He told them he had recently purchased the "Water-N-Ice" store with his parents. "Beyond that we really enjoy the weather here, and there are lots of things that we do . . . schedule permitting," Benson wrote. "It's nice here, yet nothing beats the mentality, friendliness and overall atmosphere of being back in MN."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com.

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