Sub-Amboy

This photo of Jeffrey Skjervold is about a decade old. It shows him with a gun, which his family says was his passion.

Jeff Skjervold called his mother, frantic, moments after he’d just shot a pair of tires out of his truck, the results of an argument with his wife.

Gwen Skjervold, who was used to her son calling for help, tried to get him to talk to her, to tell her what was wrong.

But Jeff didn’t give up many details.

“All he said was, ‘I’m not going to prison,’ and then he hung up,” his mother said.

She had no idea what was going on. No idea why Jeff sounded frantic. No idea what was on her son’s mind.

So Gwen Skjervold, a little after 4 p.m. on Dec. 23, got into her car and did what she’d done many times before when her son needed help. She went to him — but she’d never get any closer than the driveway of her son’s rural Amboy house.

Police were already there, and they turned her away at gunpoint. None of his family would be able to see him alive again. And before he took his own life, he’d shoot at and wound two officers, take a bullet to the belly himself and be involved in one of the most controversial law enforcement incidents Blue Earth County has seen in years.

On Friday, it will be three months since that standoff took place. And still, Skjervold’s family has no answers about what happened that night. They do, however, have a few more clues.

They also have an autopsy report that proves Jeff Skjervold was shot by police, a fact police have refused to confirm. The autopsy also shows Skjervold had no drugs or alcohol in his system. The police gunshot wasn’t his cause of death, however. His death was ruled a suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

But the family has questions about how authorities handled this situation. As for now, authorities will only say they’ve completed their investigation and are waiting for analysis of forensic evidence. Until that is in, they cannot comment on the case.

3:30 p.m.

At some point during the afternoon hours of Dec. 23, Skjervold and his wife, Cynthia, had an argument. When Skjervold shot the tires out of one of the couple’s vehicles, a relative came over and took Cynthia away. That person then called 911, and police began heading to Skjervold’s place.

Not long after that, Skjervold called his mother, and she too headed for Amboy. When she got there, though, she was stopped by police.

“The deputy pointed the gun right at me and said, ‘If you don’t stop, I’ll shoot you,’” Gwen Skjervold said. From there, she was ordered to wait by the road.

She stood there for a while and watched, she says, as a series of deputies and State Patrol officers came and went and tried to talk to her son. At one point, she said she saw an officer pointing a gun at the east-facing door of Skjervold’s house.

At another point, she says, she overheard an officer tell another that Skjervold was willing to speak to his mother.

“I begged them to let me talk to him,” Gwen Skjervold said. But she says authorities refused, and eventually she was forced to move a few blocks west.

Between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

From her perch a few blocks away, Gwen Skjervold could see figures moving around her son’s house. She could tell they were law enforcement officers holding long guns. A few moments after the officers crept around the back of the house.

At the same time, officers dealing directly with Skjervold had apparently convinced him to come out of the house. They had some help from Skjervold’s work supervisor, who the family says had been summoned to try and calm Skjervold down.

This is the point where few outside the law enforcement community really know what happened, including Skjervold’s family. Based on what Skjervold told them and on what Skjervold told The Free Press later that evening, an initial Taser shot missed, but a second one hit him.

At some point during the next few seconds, Skjervold grabbed a gun. And while it’s unknown who fired first, Skjervold and police exchanged gunfire. Skjervold fired at least one shot, seriously wounding Mankato police officer Robert Sadusky and wounding St. Peter police officer Chris Nelson.

One of the officers fired at Skjervold, piercing his abdomen but causing no major damage to internal organs.

Police retreated, and a standoff began that would last until Skjervold took his own life 12 hours later.

10 p.m.

Authorities wouldn’t let Skjervold’s mother see her son, so she called him on the telephone. He told her that when authorities first showed up at his house that day, they entered his home without knocking or announcing who they were.

His response to that, he told his mother, was to arm himself.

“He said he told them to get the hell out of there,” Gwen Skjervold said.

She also said her son sounded in “pretty good spirits.” He’d been taking some phone calls, he told her, including one from a Free Press reporter. She said her son was happy for the chance at getting his side of the story out.

(Authorities, incidentally, disagree with Gwen Skjervold’s assessment of her son’s demeanor. In court documents filed in an effort to obtain reporter Dan Nienaber’s notes from his conversation with Skjervold, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents said Nienaber’s call agitated Skjervold and may have contributed to Skjervold’s suicide.)

Skjervold also told his mother he’d been shot, but that he didn’t think he’d been seriously injured.

It was about this time that Skjervold’s sister, Lisa Hefner, arrived. She was allowed a few blocks from the house, but no closer. Police asked her if she wanted something to drink, but she became agitated and said all she wanted was to talk to her brother.

An officer offered to let her sit in his car, and to take her to get something to drink. She says he then drove her to Mankato, purchased a beverage, and returned to Amboy.

“I asked why are we going to Mankato?’” she said. “And he said he wanted some pop.”

At midnight, Skjervold spoke to a friend whom The Free Press was unable to contact. That friend told the family that, “by 12 o’clock, he’d made up his mind about what he was going to do.”

At 1 a.m., Gwen Skjervold spoke with her son for the last time. She told him she was tired and was going home. She also told him to give himself up.

“He said, ‘I’m not ready yet.’”

A few hours later, Skjervold put a 12-gauge shotgun to his head and ended the standoff and his life.

6 a.m.

Law enforcement came to Gwen Skjervold’s home early to give her the news. As they approached her house, she opened the door. It was she who spoke first.

“I said, ‘Is he dead?’ And they said, ‘Yes, he killed himself,’” she said. “And I slammed the door in their faces.”

She locked the deadbolt. But she didn’t cry.

“Cry? No. I’m not a crier,” she said.

10 a.m.

Mike Whitlow, Skjervold’s brother, was serving time in the Blue Earth County Jail when this all happened. At about 10 a.m., jail staff took him out of his cell and sat privately with him in a meeting room.

For some reason, he said, he just knew it was bad news, and that it was about his brother. His brother, he said, had been struggling emotionally and having a difficult time dealing with issues in his personal life.

“They said, ‘Are you Jeff Skjervold’s brother?’ I said, ‘Yes. Did he kill himself?’”

Three months later

Today the Skjervolds say they just want the truth. They want to know why authorities went into Jeff Skjervold’s house without warning, why the situation seemed so urgent when there were no hostages or laws being broken, why a Taser was used on him when he was apparently exiting the house unarmed.

They want to know why authorities have not told them exactly what happened during an incident that included Skjervold shooting two police officers, an officer shooting him and Skjervold shooting himself.

They admit, however, that they haven’t really asked for it yet.

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