Two weeks ago, Dan Fredenberg was shot to death in the garage of a home in Empire Estates in west Kalispell.
Today, family and friends will say farewell to Fredenberg, 40, during a funeral service.
His widow, 22-year-old Heather Fredenberg, witnessed the shooting while their 18-month-old twins Bentley and Paxton were in a truck in front of the house.
Now, the shooting replays in her mind each day. Here’s what she said she sees:
Her unarmed husband in Brice Harper’s garage. Harper on the steps to a mud room pointing a gun at Dan a few feet away. Her yelling for Dan as she pulled into the driveway and got out of her truck. Harper looking at her, then shooting Dan. ... Harper waiting four or five seconds that “felt like an eternity” to Heather and then shooting Dan two more times.
Heather also is consumed by thoughts of all the ways things could be different — ways Dan could be alive.
And she wants people to know that in her opinion, her husband was not shot in self-defense.
“What I saw, that’s flat-out murder,” she said.
But the gunman, 24-year-old Harper, may never be charged because the shooting happened in his own garage.
“And that’s not fair,” Heather said. “I want justice for my husband.”
HEATHER said she and Dan were fighting that Saturday, Sept. 22. It wasn’t unusual for them: They had struggles like any couple, but they loved each other and were committed to each other, she said.
She went over to Harper’s house to help him clean so he could move. Harper had approached her at work and asked for her help several days earlier, she said.
“I was probably over there for four to five hours, helping him clean. I was bleaching windowsills. And I remember seeing Brice’s gun in his bedroom windowsill. ... I just remember pushing it aside so I could clean.”
Looking back, she wishes she would have taken the gun and put it somewhere no one could ever find it, “because I’m pretty sure that’s the gun that killed Dan.”
Heather and Dan had been talking on the phone and sending text messages to each other throughout the day. It was getting late, and she called Dan after seeing two unanswered text messages from him on her phone.
He wanted to know where she was and when she would be home. She asked where he was. He was out looking for her, he said, and suspected she was with Harper again.
She and Harper had been having what she described as an on-again, off-again “emotional affair” for several months.
It never was a sexual affair, she said, and it was something Dan knew about from the start and something that he had spoken with Harper about before. The two exchanged words one night at a local bar, with Harper at one point telling Dan he had a gun and would “blow his F’n head off,” Heather said.
She remembers looking at her phone at 8:23 p.m. and calling Dan.
The shooting would be reported to police about 17 minutes later.
“He goes, ‘You’re at Brice’s, aren’t you?’ And I didn’t answer him. And he hung up the phone,” Heather said.
HEATHER was getting the twins ready to leave Harper’s home shortly after that. She asked if Brice would take a quick drive around the block with her to listen to her truck’s wheel bearings, which she thought were going bad. They drove around the block and eventually saw Dan driving behind them.
Heather said she still doesn’t know how Dan knew where Brice lived. When Dan asked her a month or so earlier, she told him, “In Evergreen.”
“I never wanted a confrontation between the two, so I told him the farthest place away,” she said.
“He had to have had a call or a text or something say, ‘Hey, why is your wife over here, or what are you doing over here?’”
But there Dan was.
And Harper didn’t seem too afraid that Heather’s husband was behind them. “He said to me, ‘I have a gun and I’m not scared,’” she said.
The two finished their drive around the block. “Before he got out, I said, ‘Go inside, shut your garage door and lock your doors,’” she said, adding that was only because she wanted to avert a confrontation.
Heather started driving away slowly. She expected Dan to follow her, but he didn’t.
“I see Dan get out with his finger, yelling, pointing at Brice. So I turn around,” she said.
The garage door was open and Heather watched a nightmarish scene unfold — a scene that continues to haunt her today.
After the gunshots, Heather said she parked as fast as she could, ripped her phone off the charger and ran up to the shooting scene.
“I’m screaming to Dan, ‘Baby, baby!’ And I’m screaming at Brice, ‘You just shot my sons’ dad! You just shot my husband!’”
Dan remained standing through all three shots, Heather said. His last words to her as he fell were: “Call 911.” After several tries she dialed the numbers and got through. Neighbors were out and on their phones, too.
POLICE took Harper into custody for questioning and later released him.
No charges have been filed. Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan plans to announce his formal decision about any potential charges Tuesday.
Heather and some of Dan’s family members said they’re sure Corrigan’s mind is made up. They said Corrigan cited several “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws that the Montana Legislature passed in 2009 to explain why no charges will be filed. That’s because the shooting occurred on Harper’s property, in his garage.
“I’m still reviewing what I want to do. It’s a difficult case to make a decision on,” Corrigan said Wednesday.
“Long and short, if you believe you’re about to be assaulted in your own home, you’re under no obligation to call police before using deadly force,” Corrigan said of Montana’s self-defense laws.
HEATHER said Dan posed no threat of assault.
Dan followed Harper into the garage only because that’s where Harper went and because the garage was open, she said. She said Harper came back out with a gun.
Heather said she heard Harper tell a nurse who responded to the scene that he shot Dan “because he deserved it.”
She also asked Harper why he had shot Dan. His response: “Because he was coming at me.”
“I shook my head and I glared at him, because Dan went after him into the garage, but stopped. That’s where this is not fair. Dan had no weapons on him. All he had was his finger and his words. ... He never ‘went after’ Brice,” she said.
“I want this whole murder case to go to trial. What I saw, that’s flat-out murder. That’s not self-defense. He kept saying after he shot Dan that he had ‘come at him.’ Dan did not keep coming at him. Dan came up there, then Brice had to be a pussy and have a gun. My husband was a man. You could confront him with no weapons.”
Heather said she’s been dealing with rampant rumors about what happened: That she was sleeping with Harper, that she helped kill her husband, that she did it for insurance money.
“I cannot believe all the stuff I’ve heard. Now I just laugh about it. I just go, ‘Wow, you don’t know. You don’t get it.’ It just sucks. It sucks so much,” she said.
Reality is hard enough.
People have been mad at her because if she wasn’t there, Dan wouldn’t have been shot. Her twins already are asking why she’s wearing Dan’s wedding ring on her thumb and in a few years they will want to know what happened to their dad.
“I have to live with that every day. I have to tell my kids I was getting attention from the guy that killed your dad. I was trying to be a nice person that day and help him clean, and he has to go and kill my husband,” she said.
OTHER FAMILY members said they question the way police investigated the case, how quickly Corrigan apparently made up his mind and the way Dan and Heather have been made out to look like criminals, and Harper the victim.
If Corrigan won’t file charges and take the case to trial because of state law, they’ll do everything they can to get that law changed.
Heather’s mom, Michele Keiffer, said Harper had every chance to close the garage door, lock his house or call 911 to try and avoid a confrontation.
“But Statute 45-3-110 says they don’t have to do that any more. They are under no obligation to try and escape any threatening situation or even call law enforcement. ... It’s not right,” Keiffer said.
“I would like to see the [legislators] that voted for this. Basically they have blood on their hands in situations like this. And I’m willing until my last breath to try and overturn this, get it revised, whatever it takes, so nobody else has to go through this.”
Tami Kampf, Dan’s first cousin, said no one is speaking for him. She believes police have not properly investigated the incident and even made it look like Dan did something wrong.
“Dan was the innocent one in all of this,” she said. And Dan, “who weighed 160 pounds wet,” would have to be Superman to keep going after Harper after he was shot in the chest from a few feet away the first time.
“If nothing else comes of this, that law has to be changed. Because it allows people like Brice to do what he did and get away with it,” Kampf said.
Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.