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Mourners pay tribute to man killed in double shooting

Mourners gather Saturday outside St. Johns Lutheran Church in Redwood Falls for the funeral of Chris Panitzke, left. Panitzke, 28, and Kara Monson, 26, were the victims of a double shooting Sept. 2 in Monson’s Granite Falls home. Law enforcement officers are still searching for Andrew Dikken, identified as a suspect in the slayings. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

REDWOOD FALLS – By ones, twos, threes and sometimes larger groups, mourners on Saturday approached the open casket of Chris Panitzke in the front of St. Johns Lutheran Church in Redwood Falls to touch it and offer a prayer. Then, with bowed heads, they made their way to the pews.

In a letter read aloud by Panitzke’s sister, Megan, Chris Panitzke was remembered as a “kind hearted, loving person” who made everyone smile. Megan Panitzke called her brother her best friend and recalled calling on him to watch over their family after the death of their brother, Tyler, in September 2008.

“We have been through so much together, more than any family should ever have to endure but we stood by each other’s side through our tough times together as a family,’’ she wrote.  “And now one of our puzzle pieces is missing yet again, but we will fill that bowl with the memories that live on forever.’’

Chris Panitzke died Sept. 8 at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, six days after suffering three gunshot wounds in a shooting at the Granite Falls home of Kara Monson, 26, who died at the scene. Her funeral service was held Sept. 10 in Granite Falls. Monson’s parents and immediate family were among those who joined the mourners in Redwood Falls.

The Rev. Jonathan Kruschel, St. John Lutheran Church, described Panitzke’s death as “yet another of life’s tragedies’’ in his sermon. “For death has snatched the life of a young man still in the prime of his life, leaving family members, leaving relatives, leaving friends shocked, stumped, and grief stricken,’’  said the pastor as he began his sermon.

Panitzke, who leaves behind a daughter, his parents and three siblings, was born in Willmar and raised in Redwood Falls. He had been working the past eight years at Schult Homes in Redwood Falls at the time of his death. He also worked at Divine Home Care as a personal care attendant and raised beef cattle at his grandparent’s farm. He had attended Ridgewater College in Willmar.

 He was described as a loving father to his daughter, Ava Ochs-Panitzke, born in 2004.   

“When death suddenly takes from us the life of a dear loving father, dad, a son, a brother, it makes us wonder,’’ Kruschel said.  “We’re reminded once again of the only one certainty of life and that is death, the grim reality of death,’’ he said, urging the mourners to seek God’s wisdom to be prepared for it.

Panitzke’s family members maintained a vigil at HCMC, where Chris underwent medical treatment for his wounds. He managed to make the 911 call that summoned authorities to Monson’s home following the shooting a little after 3 a.m. Sept. 2.

Law enforcement agencies are seeking Andrew Dikken, 28, of Granite Falls and formerly of Renville, in the double homicide. Dikken’s vehicle had been found Sept. 4 in a gravel pit near the Minnesota River south of Sacred Heart.

Dikken was initially regarded as a person of interest in the case. However, a warrant was issued for his arrest last week.

Crime Stoppers of Minnesota has offered a reward up to $1,000 for information leading to his arrest. The Monson family has been distributing a wanted poster with photos of Dikken and urging people to contact law enforcement. Area hunters have also been urged to call in any suspicious activity.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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