37 Years After the Deadliest Day in North Dakota, Officers are Still Feeling the Effects

Local News

On Feb. 13, in 1983, a Heaton farmer was the centerpiece in a shootout that killed two U.S. Marshals just north of Medina. Three other law enforcement officials were wounded, including a Medina Police Officer.

The officer who was wounded is Steve Schnabel, who now lives in Fargo. Thursday morning, he said that just three weeks after the shootout, everyone at the Medina Police Department was fired, and the department was shut down by the Mayor.

Ever since then, the city has been trying to forget it ever happened. But for Schnabel and the Medina Police Chief at the time, Darrell Graf, forgetting is not an option.

To explain where the city sits today, we have to take a trip back to the early 1980s.

It was just north of Medina that shots rang out at 5:50 p.m. on Feb. 13, 37 years ago. Although nothing here remains that would tell passersby this was the site of a shootout, the memories of the deadliest day in North Dakota still linger over the city of Medina.

“Gordon had what I believe is comparable to PTSD. It was called shell shock back then. I think that’s what really got the ball rolling,” Graf described Gordon Kahl.

Kahl was a highly decorated World War II veteran. Before this infamous day, he was well-known as a man with a kind heart.

“If you were parked along the side of the road with car troubles, not only would he be the first to stop to help you, but he’d get it running too. He had people who would disagree with his politics, but otherwise, Gordon was a number one guy,” Graf added.

Kahl’s politics are ultimately what put him in trouble with the law. He was a known tax protester.

On the day of the shootout, U.S. Marshals came to Medina, where Kahl was meeting with farmers to arrest him for violating his probation.

Schnabel said how he got involved: “I thought there were looking for directions. Well, when I met up with them, they basically handed me a shotgun and said ‘here you go, you’re helping us with the roadblock.”

Twenty-two-year-old Schnabel was shot in the leg.

“Right afterward, yeah, it was a tough thing to deal with, nightmares and all that good stuff. But Darrell was basically the scapegoat for everybody in this thing,” Schnabel shared.

Twenty-seven-year-old Graf said he predicted what would happen. He even warned a local sheriff’s deputy, Brad Kapp, who was a part of setting up the roadblock that resulted in bloodshed.

“I told him this is not going to turn out good if a few people try to go out and round up this man and his family and friend. It’s not going to go well,” Graff explained.

Graf was busy getting the ambulance and rescue squad ready, just in case, when the shooting happened.

He said he would not let his police officers take part, and was promised he wouldn’t have to.

“I gave it a 99 percent chance that he wouldn’t give up and a one percent chance that he would,” Graf shared.

And his instincts were right.

“The local people hated my guts because I brought all this trouble to town. Little do they know, I was the one who tried to keep…” Graf gestured that he tried to keep the confrontation out of town.

He moved to Fargo for 17 years after, and then to Bismarck for 19, to avoid the town and the people who he said put the full weight of the incident on his shoulders.

For both Graf and Schnabel, careers in law enforcement were no longer an option.

“I had a good family and a few friends for support, and the rest of it was packing a gun and wearing a bullet-proof vest wherever I went. And then, people wonder to this day, why I haven’t gotten rid of the PTSD,” Graf added.

For 37 years, Graf and Schnabel have been stuck re-living a series of events, they both said could have been avoided completely.

They even wrote a book outlining everything they’ve learned since Feb. 13, 1983.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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