Like most people, I have a morning routine. The first thing I absolutely have to do is brush my teeth and check for text messages. I’m so used to this first step in my day that I can do them both at once, brushing with my left hand, scrolling with my right.
Generally, I’ve missed nothing overnight but a couple LOL texts from my best friend Ashley.
On a recent morning, however, an Inforum Alert came up: “Another suspicious death reported in north Fargo,” it said.
As a resident of north Fargo, I got curious about where the murder happened, thinking it was likely near the train tracks and a rundown liquor store — at least a mile away from us.
When I opened the link I found myself staring at the house directly across from our house. A pretty cream stucco early-century home with a beautiful red front door. My partner Kevin and I call it The Music School. Previous owners had a sign that said Music School on the front to advertise their tutoring business.
The morning sun was just creeping into the neighborhood as I watched media collect on our front lawn to catch pictures and interview authorities. I took photos from behind our screen door because I just didn’t want to be “that” neighbor — nosy and in the way of people trying to do their jobs.
I wandered the main floor where I found Kevin sitting in the sunroom, the room farthest away from the scene unfolding outside.
“What’s going on out there?” I asked.
“I don’t know but I’ve been up since three. They’ve been out there since then,” he said. “Whatever it is, it’s not good.”
I lingered at the window for a few moments and watched a young man talking to some officers. He was wearing rubber gloves and carrying some totes from the house to his car. He was the victim’s roommate. He’d been crying, his face and eyes red and puffy. I can’t imagine what he had to go through, entering his residence where his friend’s body still lay, investigators leaning over the scene taking pictures and sorting through private belongings.
We learned today that the murder was a random act, and that a previous one in an apartment complex farther south and west of us was also random and allegedly committed by the same man, Ashley Kennedy Parker. Apparently the apartment victim was overcharging for drugs.
My neighbor: He was fetching his murderer a glass of water.
His name was Samuel Traut. Sam to friends. He was a recent NDSU college graduate, Bible study leader and seminary student. Twenty-four years old forever.
Before I knew about what a fine young man Traut must have been, and before I learned the act was random, I assumed the crime was drug or gang-related. My assumptions were wrong, and maybe a little racist, too.
But the part that really bothers me the most? I slept right through all of it. I was oblivious to everything that went down that night. I slumbered away through the sounds of a brutal murder just a couple hundred feet from my front door. I heard not a peep of the subsequent police, ambulance and fire department mayhem that ensued shortly afterwards.
Parker may have tried to knock on our door and we just didn’t hear him.
Instead, Traut drew the short straw that night and now he’s dead. Bludgeoned with a hammer for being kind enough to offer a stranger a glass of water in the middle of the night.
Eerie, haunting, sad, our neighborhood won’t be the same. It makes us all secondary victims because now we look out our front doors or down the block only to be reminded about the random, violent act that happened in The Music House. And we’re also reminded that we got lucky, too, because we didn’t hear a knock.