Hundreds gather to pay respects to Minnesota deputy gunned down in hospital room

AITKIN -- Hundreds of people filled the streets here Monday to pay their respects to one of their own, Aitkin County Sheriff's Investigator Steven Sandberg, whose body was being escorted home by his law enforcement family.

Mourners gather
With the street lined with mourners, the hearse carrying the body of slain Aitkin County Sheriff's Deputy Investigator Steven Sandberg rolls through Aitkin on Monday. Sandberg was shot and killed the day prior by a patient in a St. Cloud Hospital room. FORUM NEWS SERVICE

AITKIN - Hundreds of people filled the streets here Monday to pay their respects to one of their own, Aitkin County Sheriff’s Investigator Steven Sandberg, whose body was being escorted home by his law enforcement family.
Minnesota State Patrol troopers, deputies from the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office, along with several area law enforcement agencies escorted Sandberg from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office to Sorenson-Root-Thompson funeral home in Aitkin. The processional went by several places that were important to Sandberg, such as the courthouse, the sheriff’s office, the fire department and the Aitkin School District.
“We are bringing our brother home today,” Aitkin County Sheriff Scott Turner said earlier Monday. “Steve is coming home and the community will be able to pay their respects.”
Sandberg was shot and killed in the line of duty Sunday at St. Cloud Hospital, leaving a small community in mourning.
“Steve’s family is mourning, the sheriff’s office is mourning and the community is mourning,” Turner said.
Sandberg was with the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office for 24 years, including the past 20 years as an investigator. As an investigator, he worked on serious crimes - felonies and child abuse cases.
Turner, who was a deputy when he first met Sandberg, said Sandberg enjoyed his job and he did it well.
“He was best known for being a very kind person,” Turner said. “This morning I was talking with my wife and we said he was such a nice guy. All of those years he worked on the child abuse cases, he was the most caring and compassionate man.”
Turner said his son and Sandberg’s daughter graduated together from Aitkin High School in 2014, so they shared all the childhood milestones. Turner said Sandberg was a 1973 Aitkin High School graduate and went to Minnesota State University Moorhead.
“He was an incredible athlete,” Turner said of his former softball adversary.
Aitkin County Undersheriff John Drahota said Sandberg started with the sheriff’s office five years before he came on board. He said at one time they were both investigators and worked in the same office.
Drahota said Sandberg always had a pleasant demeanor and was professional with anyone he encountered, whether it was the public, a suspect or a witness.
“He was a person who enjoyed speaking with people,” Drahota said. “He was easy to talk to. ... He spent a lot of time with his family when he wasn’t working.”
Drahota said the sheriff’s office is providing counseling to all staff and keeping them up-to-date on events regarding the shooting. The county has 18 licensed deputies, which includes the sheriff, undersheriff and two investigators.
Aitkin County Attorney James Ratz, who has been with the county 19 years, said he and Sandberg had been friends a long time. Ratz said his two children are younger than Sandberg’s daughter, but they did things together. He said the Sandbergs often times held neighborhood parties and his children would attend.
“It’s a tough one,” Ratz said of Sandberg’s death. “You wouldn’t find a nicer guy than him. He was always true to his word.
“We will miss him so much.”
Ratz said Sandberg was an avid outdoorsman and sports fan, especially for Aitkin sports.


Putting out fires


Sandberg also was an Aitkin firefighter from 1994-2011.
Aitkin Fire Chief Brian Pisarek said he and Sandberg started their firefighting careers at the same time.
“We fought fire together and we worked together on a lot of fire investigations,” Pisarek said. “Steve was exposed to public service, he was a giver. He liked helping people.”
Pisarek said the sheriff’s office would always send Sandberg over to the fire hall when they had to tell the fire department about bad news.
“Steve would come over and talk and we always appreciated the way he worked with us,” Pisarek said. “He was level headed and the kind of guy you wanted to have around you. He always had your back.”
Pisarek said the fire department is still in shock about Sandberg’s death. When he heard the news of Sandberg’s death Sunday, Pisarek said he tried to block it out as it was too much to handle. On Monday, when he began talking to people about Sandberg, it really hit him, as his friend was gone.
“I feel really bad for Steve’s family and the sheriff’s office,” he said. “We are all shocked and heartbroken. His wife was a school teacher and taught both my kids. ... For something like this to happen so close to home, I don’t know if I could be strong.”
Pisarek said Sandberg was a nice, quiet man who was always there for people.
“He always had time for you and treated me well on and off the job,” Pisarek said.
Pastor Dawn Houser of United Methodist Church in Aitkin said Sandberg was a long-time member of the church. She said he was an active member and he was a Sunday School teacher, a confirmation mentor and was “around whenever you needed him.”
“Steve was a private person and all around guy. He loved his family and was a good father and a good husband.”
Houser said she was shocked by the news, as are many people in the community.
The church held a candle vigil right before the processional, where people came and honored Sandberg.
Former minister Larry Foote spoke to attendees about Sandberg and his wife, Kristi, and their daughter, Cassie. Foote said he got to know the family when Cassie was born and he enjoyed watching them grow.
“Steve was a very good person,” Foote said. “He fulfilled it in many ways in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He lived as a Methodist Christian and he served his community. ... He was willing to give his whole life for what he was doing.”
Foote also asked people to pray for Hammond. People can be harsh and judgmental in their prayers, he added, or they can pray for Hammond as a way to heal.

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