MADISON, S.D. — A shooting in the eastern South Dakota city of Madison took the life of a 72-year-old retired English teacher and track coach, the Associated Press has learned.
Norman Johnson was retired from teaching at Madison High School and an active member of the Trinity Lutheran Church. Pastor Dirk Hagmaier said his congregation is shocked that such an active and well-liked community member was the victim in the Tuesday night shooting. Police are still scouring the city for a suspect.
"He was very committed to the church and to the community," Hagmaier said. "Children — many children — would have gone hungry if not for him."
Hagmaier said a community gathering is planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the church at 203 N. Harth Ave.
No one has been arrested in the shooting, and Police Chief Chuck Pulford on Wednesday refused to give any details beyond a vague description of the suspect: a white male, 50-60 years old, between 5-feet-8 and 6 feet tall and possibly wearing glasses and a ball cap. Police said he was believed to be driving a maroon four-door sedan.
Officer Heath Abraham said officials had no leads as of Wednesday afternoon.
After the shooting, police went door-to-door in Johnson's neighborhood — specifically along Northwest Fifth Street, where he lived with his wife, Barbara — asking if residents had seen anything suspicious. Many of the city's 6,500 residents had left on their porch lights overnight in hopes of helping police spot the suspect.
"People are scared to go to school," said Maisie Hewitt, 14, who lives just a block from the crime scene and was feeling ill after getting little sleep overnight. Like many high schoolers, she chose to stay home from Madison High School on Wednesday. Madison Central schools held classes, but officials put the schools under a lockdown to prevent students from leaving until the end of the school day.
Alan Serfling, who lives two houses away from the crime scene on Fifth Street, said he and his wife were in Brookings until 9 p.m. but returned home to the commotion and a warning from police officers.
"They told us to stay in the house, keep the door locked," said Serfling, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. "Usually, nothing happens on this street."
Jon Lauck, senior advisor to U.S. Sen. John Thune, grew up in Madison and is a former student of Johnson's. He said he couldn't imagine why anyone would have shot Johnson.
"He was an extremely good teacher, a very good mentor and a great citizen of Madison," Lauck said. "He was very active in the community and always willing to help students whether in the classroom or on the track field."
Johnson's brown, wood-shingled house — roped off with yellow crime tape Wednesday morning — is in a quiet, well-established neighborhood across the street from Memorial Park. The picturesque area includes a walking path and a frozen, winding waterway.
The edge of Dakota State University is a block away across the divided Egan Avenue. Students at the school were notified through emails and texts shortly after the incident, and the school made sure classrooms were locked down and residence halls were secure, said Jesse Kane, vice president of student affairs and dean of students. The college has about 1,200 students, including 600 who live on campus.
University classes were scheduled as normal Wednesday morning after police described the crime as an isolated incident, though Kane acknowledged lingering anxiety among some students, staff and faculty.
"Our communication with police indicated there wasn't any foreseeable threat to the campus community or community at large," Kane said.
"I was speaking with an employee who said she has lived here all her life," Kane said. "She said she has seen only two incidents like this in the last 60 years."
Lauck, a history buff, said the last slaying he can recall in the area was in 1906 at Lake Herman. South Dakota law-enforcement officials reported 23 homicides statewide to the FBI in 2010, the last year for which data is complete.
Dakotas News Editor Amber Hunt contributed from Sioux Falls, S.D.