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Fargo man featured in TLC show accused of terrorizing brother with handgun

Joseph Heppner1 / 2
The 18-member Heppner family of Warroad in 2007. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

FARGO -- A Fargo man whose 18-member family once was featured on the cable TV channel TLC faces an attempted murder charge for allegedly terrorizing his older brother with a handgun.

The charge stems from an incident Monday in which Joseph Gabriel Heppner, 24, is accused of attempting to fire a loaded pistol during an argument with his brother, 26-year-old Samuel Heppner.

Joseph Heppner pulled the trigger twice, but it never went off, according to police reports.

"Joseph stated that he knew that the gun was loaded when he pulled the trigger and his intent was to scare Sam," Officer Philip Swan wrote in his report.

Sgt. Ross Renner said there was a round in the chamber of the small-caliber pistol, but it was unclear why it misfired.

The attempted murder charge filed by Assistant State's Attorney Ryan Younggren states that Heppner's actions "constituted a substantial step toward killing his brother."

Heppner made his first appearance Wednesday in Cass County District Court. Bail was set at $50,000 cash or bond.

The brothers belong to a Warroad, Minn., family of 16 children featured in January 2007 on the TLC miniseries "Kids by the Dozen." Several area media outlets, including The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald, also did stories about the family.

The altercation Monday took place at 215 14th St. S., a two-story home owned by Samuel Heppner.

According to the police report, Joseph Heppner told police:

He and his brother Samuel had gotten into a fight earlier Monday.

When Joseph got home, he grabbed Samuel's handgun from his room, loaded it, put it in his jacket pocket and placed his jacket by the front door "to protect himself in case Samuel tried to assault him again."

Later on, Joseph was sitting on the couch wearing the jacket when he and Samuel started arguing again. Joseph told police he "snapped," stood up and pulled the gun out of the jacket, pointed it down and to his side, aiming it at the couch, and pulled the trigger.

The gun didn't fire, so he charged it and pulled the trigger a second time. The gun didn't fire again, which is when several of his brothers tackled him and took the gun away.

Police arrested Heppner on suspicion of terrorizing.

Heppner remained in custody at the Cass County Jail on Wednesday afternoon.

He did not return a message left for him Tuesday at the jail. Messages left Wednesday afternoon for his parents, DuWayne and Miriam Heppner, his attorney, Gordon Dexheimer, and Younggren also were not returned.

Five of Heppner's brothers, including Samuel, are included on the state's list of witnesses.

If convicted of the Class A felony, Heppner faces up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.