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Teen killed in hit-and-run attack remembered as the 'All-American boy'

A close family friend of 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson said, "He is what everybody would want when they have a baby."

Cayler Ellingson
18-year-old Cayler Ellingson
Submitted Photo
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NEW ROCKFORD, N.D. — "It's impacted the community like I've never seen before," said Justin McDonald, owner of Buck-It's Bar in New Rockford.

McDonald is a close family friend of the Ellingson family; Cayler Ellingson's grandmother worked for him for several years.

Ellingson was fatally hit by a car in the early morning hours Sunday, Sept. 18, after a street dance in McHenry, a town of roughly 60 people about 50 miles north of Jamestown.

Shannon Joseph Brandt, 41, of Glenfield, North Dakota, was charged Monday in Foster County District Court with criminal vehicular homicide and failure to report the crash immediately to law enforcement. He told dispatchers and police that he intentionally hit Ellingson after the two had a political argument.

"(I'm) at a loss for understanding what happened and why it happened. I don't think we are ever going to get answers," McDonald said.

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That doesn't matter to McDonald right now, who just wants to be there for the Ellingson's, a family that's always been there for him.

"I grieve for them every minute of the day. I just want them to know all of us will do anything for them," he said.

This Saturday, Sept. 24, every penny in sales at Buck-It's Bar will be donated to the Ellingson family. The fundraiser will start at 2 p.m. and end at 2 a.m. Sunday.

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A close family friend says the couple had confided in her about a suicide pact due to their declining health. Both had been diagnosed with cancer.

"It got a little bigger than what I think we can handle in here, but we will do everything we can," McDonald said, adding a handful of former employees reached out to offer help after he announced the fundraiser.

"He is what everybody would want when they have a baby," McDonald said of Ellingson.

The 18-year-old graduated from Carrington High School last spring and was going to school to be an ultrasound technician. He was described as an autocross enthusiast who was quiet and shy, but someone everyone looked up to in the community.

"Cayler was the All-American boy. He liked to hunt, golf, anything — he was just a good 18-year-old kid," McDonald said.

Investigators were back in McHenry on Thursday to talk with people trying to figure out why a 41-year-old man would allegedly want to kill a young teen he didn't know.

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Brandt originally told police multiple times it was due to a political dispute, but so far the North Dakota Highway Patrol says there's no evidence to support that.

"I think that's what bothers me the most: It has become something political, which it shouldn't be. This is nothing more than another person taking another person's life," McDonald said.

He says Ellingson's family deserves more, but this is the best he can do.

The fundraiser will be more than the financial support, and maybe sharing some stories about Cayler will generate some smiles during this time of mourning, McDonald said, noting the young man can never be replaced.

"We've lost one of the brightest young kids in the community, and there's absolutely no words to explain how hard this is for the community."

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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