1 dead in Onida

Man believed to have killed wife, shot himself

Capital Journal, South Dakota/January 30, 2009

Pierre - Few details surrounding an Onida murder and attempted suicide have been released, but those who knew the victim, Sharon Kleinsasser, 34, and her husband - the believed shooter - Herman Kleinsasser, said the marriage was strained.

Around midnight, Thursday, the Sully County Sheriff’s Department arrived at the home of the couple and their six children, on the corner of Bayberry Avenue and Eighth Street in Onida.

From there, Herman Kleinsasser, 38, was airlifted to a Rapid City hospital, where he remains in critical condition, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Though those who knew the couple said the incident was shocking, they said there was little uncertainty about the problems the one-time Hutterite couple faced.

"We knew she had problems with her husband," said Mike Patrick, pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, which Sharon attended on and off for approximately the past five years.

From two separate Hutterite communities in South Dakota, Sharon, a Mitchell-area Hutterite, and Herman, an independent carpenter and roofer from the White Rock area, lived in Blunt before Onida. Patrick said Sharon informally came to him for counseling the first year the family arrived in the community.

Though Patrick said he never saw traces of physical abuse and Sharon did not specifically mention being abused by her husband, he said there was reason for him to believe there was domestic violence in the home, largely due to Herman’s reputation as an alcoholic.

"I would say they are born and raised to try and keep the family together, and that is a good quality, except for the fact that the man obviously had problems," Patrick said.

A close friend of Sharon, Desirea Ludwig, described her as a caring woman and mother who worked as a private caregiver to an elderly woman in the community for years. Sharon had recently become licensed to perform massages.

"She was the type of person who would give you her shirt off her back," said Ludwig. "She always told me it was interesting to know you could touch someone and it could feel better.

Ludwig said spousal abuse in the home was not unusual and had existed for "pretty much the whole relationship."

Swede Larson, the mayor of Blunt and close family friend, said he met Herman 17 to 18 years after he left his Hutterite colony. Larson hired Herman to do carpentry work but the working relationship developed into a friendship, with the Kleinsassers at one point moving in next to Larson to care for his ailing wife. Larson, who attended the Kleinsassers wedding some 16 years ago, said he was shocked when he heard the news as he had seen the couple as early last week for Sharon’s birthday party.

Larson too said he was aware of Herman’s drinking problems and even begged Herman to stop drinking at one point.

Larson said he believes the double shooting was a result of desperation on Herman’s part.

"Just like anybody else - had a few humps and bumps here, but I think tough times of the winter and all the bills, I think that had a lot to do with it, car payments and house payment," said Larson. "The fact is, the other night he said ‘I’m in debt clear up to my eyeballs.’"

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

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