The 1983 Food Town Massacre was and remains one of the most perplexing firearms massacres the state had seen. It took less than a minute on that cold February day to produce the nineteen deaths. What made this event so different from others was the presence of no less than seven perpetrators, none of whom had exhibited any prior intention to be involved in the murders. Indeed, the most widely accepted explanation is that the massacre was a series of panicked mistakes, each shooter mistaking the other as a hostile target. With all the potential suspects themselves killed, the sheriff’s office undertook a twelve month investigation to determine how, and why, the events unfolded as they did.
The biggest challenge the sheriff faced in the investigation was the time it took to complete a ballistic analysis of the estimated one-hundred fifty three rounds fired in that minute. The process of mapping the estimated trajectory of each bullet would take over eight months to finish even with temporary assistance from other counties. Politically the sheriff was under mounting pressure to turn over the investigation to state level authorities, but, not wanting to appear unable to hand the matter in an election year, he would refuse to yield jurisdiction.
As the investigation stretched into its ninth month, the sheriff’s approval rating plummeting to an all time low. Despite his public pronouncements that the first thing they teach you in sheriff school was to “never disturb the crime scene” he was publicly criticised for his decision not to remove the bodies of the deceased from the premises. Grieving families were unable to bury their dead and perhaps more disturbingly, forced to walk around the bodies when grocery shopping. The sherrif was also under considerable private pressure from the store owner, Billy Gunnerson, who was concerned that the festering corpses, the hundreds of lengths of red string and the constant presence of investigators was impeding on customer’s ability to navigate the store, leading to record low sales.
The investigation was concluded when the state governor used her executive power to relieve the sheriff of his duties. The case notes were quickly combined and a summary of events was submitted to the district court.