A North Dakota farmer and three farm hands, all three from the same family, were found dead on Monday in what law enforcement officials have described as a likely murder-suicide.
In the small town of barely 1,000, in the midst of harvest season, loved ones are living what they’ve called a “complete nightmare.”
Douglas Dulmage, 56, a farmer, husband and father of two, was found shot dead in his combine in his family’s field south of Cando, North Dakota.
Outside of the combine, Justin Bracken, 34, Richard Bracken, 64, and Robert Bracken, 59, also of Cando, lay dead in the field they’d been helping him harvest. A .357 revolver was found near the bodies, according to The Associated Press.
In a statement released via Facebook on Tuesday, Towner County Sheriff Andrew Hillier described what his deputies found.
“On August 29, 2022, Deputies from the Towner County Sheriff’s Officer were dispatched to a wheat field on the 6100 Block of 66th Stree NE for a report of four unresponsive individuals. Upon arrival, authorities located four deceased individuals,” Hillier said in the statement.
He continued, “Deputies secured the scene with the assistance of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and other local law enforcement agencies. Upon investigation, it was determined that the four deceased individuals had sustained gunshot wounds. A firearm was located in the possession of one of the deceased individuals.”
Hillier concluded the initial statement by noting, “Evidence from the scene indicates that this incident was a murder-suicide and there is no known threat to the public.”
A subsequent release on Wednesday provided the names of the deceased men and the description of the firearm with the notice that further information will be released “once the forensic medical examinations are completed in coming days.”
Authorities have not yet indicated which of the men shot the others or any other circumstances surrounding their deaths.
The Western Journal spoke with Sheriff Hillier and this story will be updated or a follow-up published as more information becomes available.
Pat Traynor, a close friend who spoke to the AP, told the wire service that Dulmage lived with his wife and children in nearby Leeds, but worked the acreage south of Cando with his 95-year-old father.
Traynor told reporters that other farmers in the area and friends of the Dulmages have already met to discuss how they can handle the unfinished work the men left behind: harvesting the wheat, corn and soybeans still in the fields.
The head of a North Dakota agriculture group reportedly told the AP that the deaths are a blow to the farming community “during a time that is usually a lead-up to celebrating harvest.”
North Dakota Farm Bureau President Daryl Lies told the AP, “It’s hard to grasp and understand why something like this can happen in rural North Dakota.” He said Dulmage had served as president of the Benson County Farm Bureau.
“Doug was a pillar in the community. He was a quiet servant leader. His actions spoke volumes about his tremendous strength of character,” Traynor said, adding that Dulmage was also a volunteer firefighter and a community leader in Leeds.
“Doug lived God, faith and family by his actions and not just his words,” he said, adding, “He was a role model for all of us. We should be more like him.”
KFYR-TV released a report on Aug. 31 that added some detail to the circumstances surrounding the suspected murder-suicide. KFYR’s Bailey Hurley reported, “It’s unclear what exactly led up to the shooting. But several people and family members say there was a dispute which ended in one man killing his brother, his son and Dulmage before turning the gun on himself.”