National Guard member charged with murder in Minnesota park shooting

ALBERT LEA, Minn.-A National Guard member with ties to Thief River Falls, Minn., has been charged with fatally shooting a man at a state park in southcentral Minnesota.A second-degree murder charge was filed Thursday against Pvt. 1st Class David ...
David Michael Easter
David Michael Easter

ALBERT LEA, Minn.-A National Guard member with ties to Thief River Falls, Minn., has been charged with fatally shooting a man at a state park in southcentral Minnesota.

A second-degree murder charge was filed Thursday against Pvt. 1st Class David Michael Easter, 26, who was arrested Tuesday at Helmer Myre Big Island State Park near Albert Lea, a Freeborn County city with a population of about 17,700 residents. Easter faces up to 40 years in prison for the felony charge.

Easter was arrested Tuesday night after he called 911 to report he had shot the victim in self-defense, according to a criminal complaint. The Freeborn County Sheriff's Office and Albert Lea Police Department responded to Helmer Myre Big Island State Park and took Easter into custody.

His wife and infant daughter were in a black Ford F-150 with him when he was arrested.

Easter, who told dispatchers the victim was in a vehicle, gave an unloaded .45 caliber pistol to officers, according to the complaint.

Deputies said they found the victim with a "traumatic injury" locked in a beige 2001 Audi station wagon. One deputy broke the driver's door window and initiated life-saving measures, but the victim was dead, according to the report.

The victim died from two bullet wounds to the head, according to an autopsy report. Deputies discovered two bullet holes in the driver-side door of the station wagon, and the bullets were located in the victim's head, according to the criminal complaint.

Investigators also found a bullet in the Ford. They also said they found two bullet casings-on several feet from the driver's door and another behind the vehicle.

They also noted in the complaint the station wagon was put into reverse and the victim's foot was on the brake.

Easter's wife, Karla, told investigators her husband had confronted the victim and "exchanged words but that she couldn't hear everything." At the time, the victim was in his car, according to the complaint.

"She heard the victim tell the defendant to stop shining his lights on him," the complaint stated.

She then heard two gunshots, she said, adding she saw the victim's doors were shut when she and her husband, who usually carries a pistol, left the park.

David Easter did not provide a statement and asked for an attorney, Sheriff Kurt Freitag said.

The victim's name is being withheld pending identification, but Freitag said he expects to release his name sometime next week.

It's unclear how the David Easter and the victim share a relationship, but investigators are "convinced there has to be one," Freitag said.

The vehicle in which the victim was found had Nebraska plates, and David Easter also has a valid gun permit in that state.

The Easters are both members of the Minnesota National Guard, Maj. Scott Hawks said in a statement. David Easter, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle System maintainer of the 2-136 Infantry Battalion based out of Thief River Falls, began his military service in December of 2012. Karla Easter is a sergeant based in Faribault, Minn.

Bond in the case was set for $500,000 without conditions and $200,000 with conditions. David Easter's next court appearance is Sept. 8.

Helmer Myre Big Island State Park is about 90 miles south of Minneapolis.