Man shoots, kills 17-year-old intruder in Moorhead apartment complex
MOORHEAD - Vernon Allen was watching "NCIS" early Saturday morning when an unknown male barged into his Moorhead apartment.
Unbeknownst to Allen, the 17-year-old Moorhead teen already had walked into at least two other unlocked apartments.
Allen said he got up to confront the teen and asked if he needed help. The intruder mumbled something and brought his fist up ready to strike.
Allen, 47, backed up toward his bedroom, telling the intruder to get out or he would grab the 12-gauge shotgun next to his dresser.
The teen ignored Allen, who then grabbed his gun. But the intruder stepped closer and grabbed the barrel of the gun, holding it to his chest.
"I wasn't gonna let him have it ... it was either him or me," Allen told The Forum in an interview Saturday about an hour after police released him after questioning him about the incident.
"When he grabbed the barrel of that shotgun I had to make a choice ... so I pulled the trigger on him."
Sara Graham heard the shotgun blast.
The mother of two minutes before had just kicked the same stranger out of her garden-level apartment in the same four-unit complex at 1103 19th St. S. Her apartment is directly below Allen's.
Assuming he'd left the building, Graham ran outside and down the driveway, thinking she was chasing after him.
But after she heard the shot, she ran back in to find the intruder going into her apartment a second time. He then made his way into her daughters' unoccupied bedroom, where he collapsed, bleeding from a gunshot wound to his chest and wailing uncontrollably.
"There's nothing like the sound of a grown man when he cries when he's been shot," Graham said in an interview late Saturday morning. Her daughters, ages 11 and 8, had been at their grandmother's house Saturday.
At the same time Graham was following the intruder into her own apartment, her upstairs neighbor, Allen, called 911 to say he had shot an intruder in his apartment.
The teen received medical attention at the apartment before being transported to Innovis Health in Fargo, where he died. Police did not release his name late Saturday night pending notification of his family.
About 15 minutes before the teen entered Allen's apartment building, he was half a block away - again uninvited - inside Taaren Haak's apartment in the 1100 block of 18½ Street South.
Haak's roommate had just gotten home around 11:45 p.m. Friday. The 22-year-old Haak was about to leave for a house-sitting job when the stranger walked in and shut the door behind him.
Haak yelled at him to leave, preparing mentally for what she would have to do if it got physical.
"He just kind of wasn't responding," she told The Forum on Saturday night. "He didn't say anything to me. He just kind of looked at me like he didn't know what I was saying or what was going on, so I just assumed he was kind of drunk."
The male pulled out a $20 bill and tried to hand it to Haak, who told him she didn't want it.
"Eventually he did just open the door and leave, and we locked it behind him," she said.
As Haak went to her car, the teen was in the grass, leaning up against a wall before cutting through backyards and going to another building and appearing to talk to someone standing outside.
Haak said she assumed he had been in the wrong apartment, saying she didn't think he was dangerous, so she didn't call police.
"I just kind of assumed he was off on the street," she said.
After calling 911 to report the shooting, Allen went in for questioning. He was released about 15 hours later on Saturday afternoon after repeatedly telling his story to investigators.
He said he was arrested about 2 a.m. Saturday on suspicion of manslaughter, but released after prosecutors decided not to charge him at this time.
"That was done, obviously, given the circumstances," Moorhead Sgt. Steve Larsen said. "We needed to review everything and make sure we had all our ducks in a row."
Police consulted with the Clay County Attorney's Office before releasing Allen, according to a news release issued about 4 p.m. announcing Allen's release.
"Mr. Allen has been cooperative with the investigation and has the right to return home at this time after a very disturbing critical incident," Lt. Tory Jacobson said in the release.
Police have not released whether the intruder had a weapon in his possession, saying the investigation is ongoing.
"This could go on for weeks," Larsen said.
Allen said he believes the intruder was intoxicated as the teen was slow in his movements and hard to understand.
"He was on something," Allen said.
The National Rifle Association member said he's happy he had one of his four guns close by to protect himself, saying the only time he became scared during the encounter was when the intruder grabbed the gun.
"There was no way he was going to get that shotgun 'cuz it'd be a different story all together," Allen said. "It was either him or me."