In December 2019, Underwood native Alex Fischer was attending the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton. He was just a semester away from earning his diesel mechanic associates degree.
But, on Dec. 19th, a day that started out like any other, Alex had gone out to supper with some friends. He returned to his on-campus apartment, and that’s when his roommate Ethan Clark, for no apparent reason, pulled the trigger.
“I walked downstairs to the living room in our townhouse and my roommate pulled the gun out of his front belt, and pointed it at me,” Alex recalls of that moment. “I said what, are you gonna shoot me? What the f***, are you gonna shoot me? And the gun went off.”
Immediately, Alex’s firefighting and first responder training kicked in. He knew he was losing a lot of blood.
“I wasn’t gonna wait for nobody. I started my pick-up and made him drive me there [to the hospital],” says Alex.
“Shocking, devasting,” says Alex’s mother.
Melissa Fischer talks about the call no mother ever dreams of receiving.
“You’re told your child has just been shot and they’re being life-flighted to Fargo,” says Melissa Fischer.
Doctors discovered the bullet hit Alex’s hand first, penetrated down through his abdomen and landed a few inches from his femoral artery.
They considered the bullet’s path a “lucky” one.
“Had it not went through his hand, Alex probably wouldn’t be here,” says Melissa Fischer.
Alex has had surgeries on both his femur and hand. He undergoes therapy three times a week. But, at best, doctors say Alex might regain only 50 to 60 percent of his hand function. His career as a diesel mechanic will never be.
His future as a volunteer firefighter and first responder also hangs in the balance.
“This has affected him and will continue to affect him for the rest of his life,” says Derrick Fischer, Alex’s father.
“As a parent, you send your kid to school and you think when you put them on college on campus they’re gonna be safe, and it’s better than your child living off-campus,” says Melissa. “Things like this happen and I want people to know it.”
Ethan Clark has been charged with reckless endangerment and discharge of a firearm within city limits — Class A and Class B misdemeanors.
He’s still awaiting trial.
“I don’t know why he shot me — it’s just weird,” Alex says.
Alex’s family says the charges are nothing but a slap on the wrist.
“I would like to see him punished for what he’s done to my son,” says Derrick.
“It just seems like Alex’s life is on hold and the repercussions for Ethan have been next to nothing,” adds Melissa.
Court records shed light on the shooting and the steps needed for Ethan Clark to fire his 1911 Colt handgun.
First, it would need to have been loaded. Then, two separate safeties would need to have been disengaged. A round would need to be in the chamber, the hammer cocked and the trigger pulled.
The state’s attorney’s office in Richland County says a lot of things go into deciding how charges are filed in a case. They believe Clark was charged with what they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
And they say his charges are serious. If convicted of the Class A misdemeanor, Clark faces a maximum penalty of 360 days in jail and a $3,000 fine, or both.
The North Dakota State College of Science says NDSCS Police and the Wahpeton Police Department both responded after they were notified of the incident.
The college’s code of conduct states no weapons are to be anywhere on campus.
As for any disciplinary action against Ethan Clark, the school says his records are protected under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act.