Apartment owner, tenant's daughter unsettled after 16 shots struck South Dakota complex

A ladder leans on the building as investigators were on the scene Feb. 5 of an Aberdeen apartment damaged by gunfire There were 16 stickers on the building and the window, one for each mark left by gunfire. John Davis / Aberdeen American News
A ladder leans on the building as investigators were on the scene Feb. 5 of an Aberdeen apartment damaged by gunfire There were 16 stickers on the building and the window, one for each mark left by gunfire. John Davis / Aberdeen American NewsJohn Davis / Aberdeen American News

ABERDEEN, S.D. - Scary. That’s the word Barry Schmiess used to describe the early February shooting at an apartment building he owns in Aberdeen.

It’s also a word that Emily Erickson would use — especially since her 4-year-old daughter had spent two weeks in the apartment with Erickson’s mother, Carol Burhans, just before the incident.

Sixteen gunshot markings — including three that made it through a window — were found on the exterior of the southwest building of Elmwood Manor Apartments in Aberdeen. The investigation began Feb. 4.

A grandmother of nine, Burhans often had grandchildren in her apartment, Erickson said. Her daughter had just left hours before the apartment was shot at on Feb. 1.

According to the Aberdeen Police Department, damage to the apartment was reported three days later on Feb. 4, but investigators believe the shots were fired at the building between 5 and 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 3. No one reported hearing any gunfire at that time, according to a news release, and no one was injured.

It could have been a much different story had Burhans been home.

“There was a hole right above the chair where she sits,” Erickson said.

There was another hole above the stove, she said.

Erickson is adamant her mom was not the intended target.

“Whoever it was, it wasn’t meant for my mother,” she said. “They have the wrong person.”

She also doesn’t believe race was a factor, as her family is made up of several ethnicities.

“It has nothing to do with race. That’s not the issue, and I wish people would stop going in that direction,” she said.

Erickson and her siblings would prefer it if their mother looked for another apartment. But, Burhans receives housing assistance and disability because of a battle with cancer, Erickson said.

Burhans is back home and living in the apartment, her daughter said.

Erickson said she has heard many rumors about the incident, but not much concrete information. She has a lot of questions, like what type of gun was used and what would have happened if her mom had been home. She also wonders if the police have arrested anyone and if the shots were intended for a previous tenant.

Police Capt. Eric Duven said Friday the incident remains under investigation, and no further details were available.

Burhans’ continued safety is the family’s top priority, Erickson said.

“It’s crazy. It’s South Dakota,” she said. “And a one-person apartment, an older woman, a grandma ... and her apartment can be shot 16 times.”

Schmiess has pledged to make the apartments safer.

“I grew up in small-town Oakes (N.D.) not too far from Aberdeen and I know the community, and it is scary for us,” Schmiess said.

The apartment is one of several the Fargo man owns throughout the region, and he said he’s never had something like this happen before.

“This is obviously a very scary and serious situation that we’re going to have to make some changes and find out what happened,” he said.

The set of six brick apartment buildings that make up the Elmwood Manor Apartments on the north side of the Super City Plaza was recently purchased by Schmiess.

While they’re older, simple apartments — they were new in the 1960s, according to news archives — Schmiess said he wants a safe building.

“We do background checks, we don’t allow felons,” he said. “Things are changing a lot — there’s just a lot of change going on right now in the apartment world.”

In an effort to make the buildings safer, Schmiess said he and the buildings’ manager are working with the police department to see what improvements can be made whether that means security doors, cameras or something else.

Safety is the most important thing, he said.

“We’re going to do whatever we have to do and, quite honestly, I’m going to spend what I have to spend to make it more secure for everybody,” Schmiess said.