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The stories and photos in this series were originally published in the Bismarck Tribune in 2003.
Changing lives in 30 seconds

By Tony Spilde, Bismarck Tribune

Fifteen ticks, 15 tocks.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Thirty seconds that lasted forever. Thirty seconds soaked in blood.

Six men were shot and two were killed in a gunfight that nobody wanted to happen but some saw as inevitable. Lead pierced bone and ruined lives. The shots tore through a security blanket that had coddled an entire state.

The stage was a roadblock on an empty stretch of highway just north of Medina, bathed in the last light of dusk. It was a clear Sunday evening, just before six, warm for February. Federal lawmen from Bismarck and Fargo were there to arrest a man for a misdemeanor probation violation. Maybe you remember his name. If you live around here you do.

Gordon Kahl.

Kahl didn't want to be arrested. His son, Yorie Kahl, and friend Scott Faul were with him. They aimed rifles at the lawmen. The lawmen aimed back.

"Put your guns down. It's not worth getting killed over," a deputy U.S. marshal said.

"Put your guns down and back off," the elder Kahl responded. "There is no reason for anybody to get hurt over this."

No one dropped his weapon. Aims steadied, voices silenced. Tension rose.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

A shot rang out.

A U.S. marshal went down.

More shots, more men down.

The shooting was over in the amount of time it takes a 12-year-old to round the bases.

Later, people on both sides said it never should have happened.

The bullets flew on Feb. 13, 1983.

In a series that will run Sunday through Thursday, the Tribune will examine the landscape two decades after the shoot-out.

Twenty years later, that's still a major theme in the story of the Kahl shoot-out at Medina: It never should have happened.

On one side, some supporters of the Kahls and Faul say the men were set up. Six armed officers of the law to serve a misdemeanor warrant? Couldn't it have been done peacefully in the grocery store instead of on the highway, after it was determined the men were armed? It never should have happened.

On the other side, people are incensed that officers were shot. You just don't go around shooting at lawmen who are well within the guidelines of carrying out their duties. It never should have happened.

When the shooting ceased, U.S. Marshal Ken Muir of Fargo and Deputy Marshal Robert Cheshire of Bismarck lay dead on the road. After he was fatally wounded and unarmed, Cheshire was shot twice at point-blank range, likely by Gordon Kahl.

Deputy Marshall James Hopson also lay on the highway, critically wounded by a piece of asphalt that had been dislodged by a bullet and entered his ear, striking his brain.

Stutsman County Sheriff's Deputy Bradley Kapp lost a finger to a bullet, and a shard of glass cut his forehead. Medina police officer Steve Schnabel was hit in the leg by a ricocheting bullet.

Yorie Kahl was shot in the stomach.

Gordon Kahl went on the lam. Yorie Kahl and Faul went on trial. So did Kahl's wife, Joan, and David Broer, who also were present at the shoot-out but unarmed.

Testimony and a reconstruction of the incident showed it was likely Gordon Kahl who killed Muir. Prosecutors couldn't prove which man fired the shot that killed Cheshire, but they didn't have to. All three men fired in the marshal's direction, making them guilty of aiding and abetting the murder.

A Fargo jury found Yorie Kahl and Faul guilty of second-degree murder. They were sentenced to life in prison. Joan Kahl was acquitted of murder and Broer was convicted of conspiring to assault and harboring and concealing a fugitive. He got 10 years.

Gordon Kahl became the target of a nationwide manhunt. He was found and killed in another gunfight in Arkansas that June.

Those events scared many North Dakotans, enraged others and placed a media spotlight on a state that had been comfortable in the off-stage shadows.

It has been 20 years since then.

Yorie Kahl and Faul remain in prison.

People still feel strongly about both sides of the issue. Some want to forget what happened, others want everyone to remember so it doesn't happen again.

(Reach reporter Tony Spilde at 250-8260 or