WEST FARGO — In Deanna and Brian Dirks’ home hangs a wood portrait of their smiling son, Jakob.
In many ways, the 23-year-old was like anyone else's son: He played hockey, got good grades and helped strangers and neighbors alike. Deanna Dirks recalled a time when she and her son were running errands and they discovered a lost child.
“He looks at me and he kind of gets a twinkle in his eyes,” she said. “He goes, ‘I got this one, Mom.’ And he grabs the little kid’s hand and finds the dad.”
The detailed portrait hanging on the wall was made after Jakob Dirks of West Fargo was fatally stabbed Sept. 8 at the AmericInn at 4325 23rd Ave. S. in Fargo. He went to the hotel to recover $10,000 that Shawn Albert Bear, 25, of Cooperstown, N.D., had stolen from him just days before.
Nearly 200 pages of police reports and surveillance video obtained by The Forum through a public records request shed light on what led up to the confrontation, why Bear’s 21-year-old brother, Alan, stabbed Jakob Dirks and how drugs played a role in what the Dirkses said was a preventable tragedy.
“I don’t think Jakob had to die that night,” Deanna Dirks said.
Alan Bear of Cooperstown was arrested, but police released him after determining he stabbed Jakob Dirks in self-defense — Dirks had pointed a loaded gun at Shawn Bear, police reports said. Shawn Bear and others involved got prison time for their parts in the case.
Deanna Dirks said it is hard to talk about her son's struggle with drugs and that night. But his parents hope his story will bring awareness to drug use in the community, show how drugs can impact lives, and spark discussion on improving efforts to help youth instead of punishing them.
“We have to meet these kids where they are at, not where we think they should be at,” she said.
Money for drug treatment stolen
When Jakob Dirks was 16 years old, he was diagnosed with anxiety and mild depression. Treatment didn’t seem to help him, his mother said.
“I do believe, I personally believe, that is where his drug use started,” she said.
Brian Dirks said they did everything they could to get their son help. The family tried several drug treatment facilities, some out of state since it was hard to find local services right away. He wanted to get help, Deanna Dirks said, adding that he sold his motorcycle to get money for treatment and to pay bills.
The Dirkses said that was the money Shawn Bear stole. Shawn Bear told police he stole money that Jakob Dirks obtained by selling marijuana, a claim the Dirkses disputed.
Shawn Bear also told police he gave about $500 to his brother to pay for a room at the AmericInn, where Jakob Dirks would confront Shawn Bear before being fatally stabbed.
Police reports describe how Shawn Bear showed up at an acquaintance's apartment in Fargo to divide the stolen money into envelopes. Shawn Bear also took Jakob Dirks’ credit cards and jewelry, the reports said.
One of the envelopes appears to have been for Shawn Bear’s sister and mother. In a Facebook message, Shawn Bear told his brother, “We owe Mom a lot of money, bro.”
“Mom deserves it. I know she don’t want it this way, but (my sister) is gonna get her to take it,” the message said.
Police reports say Shawn Bear wouldn’t tell his sister how he got the money. Investigators later recommended the mother and sister not face charges if Shawn Bear cooperated with authorities.
Shawn Bear also didn't tell his brother where the money came from, though he suspected what happened, according to police reports.
Meanwhile, Jakob Dirks, who had several felony drug convictions on his record, was upset his money was taken. On Facebook, he offered a $1,000 reward for information on the stolen cash and Shawn Bear’s whereabouts, the police reports said.
Robert Edward Peightal, 23, of Fargo told Shawn Bear via Facebook message he woke up the morning before the stabbing to a gun pointed at his head, indicating Jakob Dirks was holding the gun because he thought Peightal stole the money, the reports said.
Shawn Bear also referenced messages from Jakob Dirks and Peightal that threatened Shawn Bear and his family, the reports said.
When asked about the alleged threats and Peightal’s claim, Deanna Dirks said it is hard to believe those accounts are accurate.
“I think there was a lot of self-preservation going on,” she said. “It is easy to blame a dead guy. I mean, that’s a terrible thing to say, but all of the sudden, Jake was getting blamed for everything.”
Witnesses told investigators Jordan Tyler Plouffe, 20, of Fargo told Jakob Dirks that Shawn Bear was at the hotel.
Plouffe, who according to criminal charges helped set up what prosecutors called a robbery, was in the hotel room with Shawn Bear and others when Peightal and Jakob Dirks came to confront Shawn Bear.
Brian Dirks emphasized that his son was not a thief.
“He wasn’t robbing those kids at that hotel,” Brian Dirks said. “He was trying to get his own money back.”
The Dirkses told their son he shouldn’t try to get his money back. Deanna Dirks said the money didn't matter and they would get him treatment no matter what.
But with a duffel bag, he and Peightal entered the hotel, passing Alan Bear as he smoked at the entrance, according to surveillance video obtained by The Forum.
The video then shows the three men walking into the lobby and to the Bear brothers’ room, but it doesn’t show what happened inside the room.
According to police reports, Plouffe opened the door, and Peightal and Jakob Dirks forced their way in. Witnesses told investigators Jakob Dirks pulled a .22-caliber rifle out of the duffel bag and rushed Shawn Bear, the reports said.
Jakob Dirks struck Shawn Bear several times and threatened to kill him and his brother, according to the reports. Eventually, Jakob Dirks loaded the gun chamber and pointed the gun at Shawn Bear's head, the reports said.
"I thought he was going to kill me and my brother," Alan Bear told police.
That’s when Alan Bear pulled out a knife and stabbed Jakob Dirks, the reports said. Jakob Dirks' gun was not fired, Fargo Police Sgt. Chris Nichtern said.
Peightal and Jakob Dirks, with his gun put back in the duffel bag, left the hotel room, the reports said. Jakob Dirks collapsed in an exit hallway, where police found him, video shows. He later died at a hospital.
The Bear brothers remained in the room until police arrived. Peightal and Plouffe fled, police reports said.
'Look beyond the addiction'
It's not uncommon for illegal drug use to lead to other crimes — such as theft, robbery or assault — because people addicted to drugs need money to pay for them, Fargo Police Sgt. Matt Christensen said.
"The nature of illegal drug dealing and drug use is inherently dangerous," he said. "Drug users are typically paranoid, and the use of illegal drugs can lead to rash decisions while under the influence."
During a sentencing hearing for stealing Dirks' money, Shawn Bear told a judge last month about his issues with drug addiction and that it was not an excuse for his actions.
Shawn Bear is serving a 30-month prison sentence for stealing Dirks’ money. The Forum sent Shawn Bear questions via email but did not receive answers by the time this story was published. Attempts to reach Alan Bear were unsuccessful.
For their roles in the incident, Plouffe and Peightal were sentenced to two and four years in prison, respectively.
The Dirks family said they may never know what was going through the minds of those involved in the case, nor will they be able to fully understand what happened.
Deanna Dirks said she didn’t want to make excuses for her son and acknowledged he made bad choices. But society should work to treat people who struggle with addiction and provide better access to services.
“We may never know what causes everybody’s addiction, but if we can look beyond the addiction and get to the person and help them, then maybe we have a chance,” she said. “We can’t just punish it away.”
She said many people are still angry about her son's death, but she can’t stay angry. She hopes those involved in the confrontation get the help they need and can live productive lives.
As a West Fargo teacher, Deanna Dirks said she tries to educate children about the dangers of drugs. She hopes her son’s story can inspire others to improve their lives. She called on leaders and communities to work to improve addiction treatment services, including providing a facility that can help people in crisis immediately instead of having to wait days or weeks.
“I just hope that somehow we can get some good from this,” she said. “We just have to. If we don’t talk about it, nothing will change.”