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Son of slain U.S. marshal beats odds

Two tragic events shaped Ryan Cheshire's path to public service. The path - sometimes painful, sometimes confusing - is personal. It's also been career-changing and a character-builder for the 30-year-old assistant Otter Tail County prosecutor. T...

Ryan Cheshire

Two tragic events shaped Ryan Cheshire's path to public service.

The path - sometimes painful, sometimes confusing - is personal. It's also been career-changing and a character-builder for the 30-year-old assistant Otter Tail County prosecutor.

The murder of his father, Bob Cheshire - a U.S. marshal killed in the line of duty Feb. 13, 1983, when federal officers tried to arrest Gordon Kahl, an anti-government protester, near Medina, N.D. - when he was 6 and his brother's death 10 years later inspired him to shift goals from law enforcement to law school.

"I lost half my family by the time I was 16," said Cheshire, whose mother and sister live in Washington. "I looked at them as reasons to go on ... and use that as motivation to do something positive. To do anything else would be negative."

As a prosecutor, Cheshire said he keeps his focus on the victims and how their lives have been changed by crime.


However, it wasn't easy finding that idealism.

Overcoming adversity

Dave Peterson, an assistant U.S. attorney in Bismarck, and his wife, Diane, were close friends of the Cheshire family: Bob, Lynn, Ryan, Jeremy and Kristen.

The murder of their father left the Cheshire siblings to grow up without a father.

"He's seen a lot of adversity in his life," Peterson said. "I've seen him (Ryan) develop from 4 or 5 ... to a fine young man with a fine family and a good future in front of him. He's doing his life's love now."

But it wasn't easy getting there. The Cheshire family moved to Washington when Ryan was in the fifth grade.

His younger brother by one year, Jeremy, was killed at age 15 when he and friends accepted a ride after a high school football game. None of them knew the man driving had been drinking until moments before the crash that killed him.

Ryan Cheshire said he began feeling sorry for himself until after the funeral.


"Now I can say I've had a great life," Cheshire said. "I've been blessed... In a lot of ways, it helped me. It gave me a new motivation to go forward and to help to do what's right."

He set his sights on a career as a federal law enforcement officer - in large part because of the tragedy in his life - when he enrolled at Central Washington University. By the time he graduated, Cheshire said he wanted to become a prosecutor.

"The change in college was realizing I could do more as a prosecutor," Cheshire said. "That's not taking anything away from law enforcement. I found it to be my passion, my calling."

Peterson suggested the University of North Dakota Law School, and Cheshire returned to the state, where he met his wife. Eventually, both received judicial clerkships in Otter Tail County and Cheshire joined the prosecutor's office in March 2005.

A victim advocate

As a prosecutor, Cheshire said he can advocate for victims, a role he couldn't take as an officer. He said he believes in hope and faith and refuses let the deaths of his father and brother serve as an excuse to fail.

Otter Tail County Attorney David Hauser said Cheshire, who handles many of the county's drunken driving prosecutions, has done a good job.

"We're very happy with him, and he's a good prosecutor," Hauser said.


Cheshire said he doesn't recall much about his father but has talked to many people about him.

"From what I've heard and been told, he was a good father," Cheshire said. "I've learned more about the incident as I got older. I know he gave his all for his country."

He recalls shaking President Ronald Reagan's hand during a trip to Washington, D.C. The experience prompted Cheshire to give the President's last name to his daughter.

And he's made a trip to Medina to witness where the confrontation with Kahl, who fled the state and later died in another shootout with officers in Arkansas, unfolded with his dad.

Cheshire said he granted a television interview for a documentary about how the shootout affected family members, but he never watched it.

"Part of that (shootout) in North Dakota never seems to be finished," Cheshire said. "There are some people who viewed my dad as a federal law enforcement official. To me, he was my dad."

Peterson, who owns a lake cottage in Otter Tail County and visits regularly with Cheshire, said there are strong similarities between father and son.

"Bob also was a person very committed to law enforcement," Peterson said. "A lot of strengths I see in Ryan I saw in Bob."

Both men have integrity and honesty, Peterson said. He gives Ryan Cheshire credit for pulling through adversity to reach his goal.

"A lot of people don't make it through those kinds of things," Peterson said. "It's been a pleasure to watch him grow and develop."

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

As director of digital content development for Forum Communications, Wagner oversees digital training tools for newsrooms, audience engagement and niche content areas.
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