by Jim Boyle
Funeral services will be held tomorrow, Saturday, April 6, at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church for Stephanie (Miscowiec) Shields, a 35-year-old Zimmerman mother and her two children, Nolan, 7, and Josephine, 6.
Shields and her two children were found dead in their home on Easter morning.
Stephanie Shields’ death has been preliminarily ruled a probable suicide pending further investigation and toxicology reports, according to Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott. Nolan and Josephine’s deaths have been ruled homicide by drowning. Brott made the announcement Tuesday after receiving a Ramsey County medical examiner’s provisional report.
Though the investigation is ongoing, Brott assured the community that there is no threat to the public in relation to this case.
Brott said his office will withhold further comment until the results of toxicology testing, lab results and electronic communication records are received and examined.
Sheriff’s deputies were called to the family’s home at 13309 Fifth Ave. S. in the city of Zimmerman at 10:03 a.m. on March 31.
A neighbor of the Shields family had phoned 911 after discovering three unresponsive bodies in the home. Deputies arrived and confirmed that all three of the individuals were deceased.
Shields’ husband Mark Shields had recently moved out of the home when the couple separated.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Crime lab processed the scene and investigators from the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office and the BCA began interviewing all relevant parties. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office performed autopsies on the victims on April 1.
Mass of Christian burial will be at 11 a.m. April 6 at the Church of St. Andrew, 566 Fourth St. NW, Elk River. Visitation is tonight at the church and one hour prior to Mass tomorrow.
Interment will be at St. John the Baptist Cemetery, New Brighton.
The family of the mother and two boys in an obituary stated memorials are preferred in lieu of flowers. They also thanked the community for its support.
News of the tragedy began to break on Easter in Zimmerman and elsewhere with the stunning announcement three people were found dead in a Zimmerman home.
Slowly, grim reports came out. The Elk River Area School District’s crisis response burst into action on Monday to prepare for the return of students and staff from spring break on Tuesday at Zimmerman Elementary School.
Siblings Nolan and Josephine Shields were not coming back, they learned.
“Josephine Shields and her brother Nolan were part of our Zimmerman Elementary School family, and we are deeply saddened,” Principal Susan Johnston said in a statement from the school district.
Grief counselors were called in to support students and staff.
Resource materials that can be shared with families about how they can talk to their child about the loss of Josephine and Nolan have also been made available at the school.
In respect to the school community, administrators on the crisis response team requested news media and public allow Zimmerman Elementary School students and staff return to school without interruption.
The crisis team met earlier this year in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, and changes in the district’s approach to security were enacted. This time the tragedy did not happen on school grounds, but the team knew the impact of the tragedy in the Zimmerman community would transfer to the school on Tuesday.
Nolan was a second-grade student at the school, and Josephine was a kindergarten student.
“This is unbelievable,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said. “I have tears coming out of my eyes. When you see the pictures of these kids, your heart breaks.”
The news began to rock the family’s neighborhood more immediately, especially as churches across Zimmerman let out from Easter morning services and police tape began going up.
Zimmerman Mayor Dave Earenfight said in all his 40 years of calling the community home, no tragedy like this had ever happened.
“Our community is country,” he said. “We live together, we work together, we pray together and today, we’re mourning together for members of our family as a community.”
The Shields’ neighborhood reacted to the tragedy with patience and prayers.
“News is getting around about our neighbors,” LeAnne Bye posted on Facebook. “A horrible thing happened and three people are no longer with us. Please pray for the families.”
Bye lives one house down from the Shields’ home, which stood out from the surrounding homes with its dark red siding just beyond the Zimmerman Home and Garden Center.
“I saw them walk their kids past my driveway all the time on their way to the park,” she said. “It’s just so hard to believe they’re gone.”
No stranger to tragedy, Bye, whose son was killed two years ago in a car accident, called on people to guard their words and avoid spreading rumors, reflecting that the hurt and shock for the family is likely unbearable.
“I’m not being ‘preachy,’” she explained, “but the last thing families need at a time like this is to overhear rumors and speculation about an event that has cut deeply into their hearts.”
Speaking from experience, she said she was hurt when she came across rumors swirling about her son’s death.
“I can only imagine how this family feels right now,” she added. “I’m still in shock from it.”
(Editor’s note: Nathan Warner contributed to this report.)