ROCHESTER, Minn. — Mackenzie Fjerstad was at her home in Rochester, Minnesota, surrounded by family and friends, when she found out her 2-year-old daughter Maelahni was never going to be with her father again.
Fjerstad, 22, learned Monday afternoon, Sept. 13, that her ex-boyfriend and Maelahni's father, Matthew Pettus, was one of four people found fatally shot Sunday, Sept. 12, in an abandoned SUV in a cornfield in Dunn County, Wisconsin.
"I just broke," Fjerstad said. "I just broke down bawling. I've never felt this type of pain before. Ever."
Pettus, 26, and the three other victims — his sister Jasmine Christine Sturm, 30, of St. Paul; Nitosha Lee Flug-Presley, 30, of Stillwater, Minnesota, and Loyace Foreman III, 35, of St. Paul — were found in the SUV by a farmer Sunday afternoon. The night before, they had been 65 miles west at a bar in St. Paul, where Pettus was living, Dunn County Sheriff Kevin Bygd said during a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 14.
Authorities believe the four "were randomly brought to" Dunn County.
Bygd said there is no connection between the victims and Dunn County, and at this time there are no indications the motive behind the killings involved drugs or organized crime activity.
Fjerstad met Pettus in Rochester in 2017 while in line at a Taco Bell drive-thru. Pettus was working there and the two were flirting while she was waiting for her food, she said.
"I did a Facebook status like, 'Oh, whoever the Taco Bell drive-thru guy is is pretty cute,'" she said. "And then he found me on Facebook a week later."
That started a three-year relationship that led to the birth of their daughter in 2019. They separated in 2020 and Pettus moved to St. Paul, but that didn't stop him from being an active part of Maelahni's life.
"He was great. He was always supportive. He was always making sure she had more than she needed. He would take her unnecessarily shopping," Fjerstad said. "He always wanted to do something with her ... He just always made sure she had everything she needed and she loves him so much.
"It definitely made me feel lucky that I was blessed with my child's father actually wanting to be there."
Fjerstad also described Pettus as a "stubborn" person, but also welcoming to others. Pettus did have a criminal record in Olmsted County.
"He struggled with a lot of things, but no matter what, he tried. And he was there," Fjerstad said.
Pettus' sister, Jasmine Sturm, also played an involved role when it came to her niece.
"(Maelahni) loved her auntie," Fjerstad said. "Every time she saw her, she would get excited. Jasmine did everything she could to help me, too. She would take Maelahni sometimes on weekends and just take her out."
Even after they separated, Fjerstad said she was comfortable reaching out to Pettus and always wanted him to be a part of her and Maelahni's lives.
"No matter what happened, I knew that I could call him and cry to him about something that didn't even involve him or my child," she said. "He was there ... He was my first love. I've always cared about him and I told him 'No matter what, I'm always going to care about you and always have a love for you. You're the father of my child. I don't want anything to happen to you.'"