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Schrieffer family looking for closure

The dignity of funeral rites -- religious celebrations of life that give resolution to death -- starts the healing process for many.

But for Mary Forstrom of Cloquet, the violent way in which it is believed her son died -- run down by a truck after being beaten in an alley in West Duluth -- has provided the family with no closure. The body of Erik Wayne Schrieffer, 27, has not been found.

"I've known for one week and two days," said Forstrom last week. "But he's been missing for nearly three weeks."

Testimony to, and evidence of, the beating and the injuries Schrieffer sustained lead police to believe he died around 1 a.m. on Jan. 24. He wasn't reported missing until Jan. 29.

Joseph Arden Wehmanen, 32, Hermantown, was arrested on Jan. 31 and formally charged with second-degree murder on Monday, according to Duluth police Sgt. Tim Jazdzewski. Wehmanen is jailed on $325,000 bail.

Late Friday afternoon, Forstrom found comfort at Concordia Lutheran Church in Superior.

Seated on a pew inside the empty church where she attended Sunday school as a child and confirmation classes as a teen-ager, Forstrom looked toward the sanctuary where her son was made a child of God through Holy Baptism.

Forstrom has been told that based on evidence at the crime scene, her son could not have survived the injuries without immediate medical treatment. "I know he's dead," Forstrom said, admitting her strength comes from her faith.

"Well, of course it's from God. We all know that. There's no two ways about it. And at the same time I'm angry," Forstrom said.

But she said over the past few horrific days, friends and family have done a lot of reminiscing. There is a theme that permeates the reaction of his friends who admit their love for Schrieffer:

"He had an underlying strength and conviction to do the right thing," writes Forstrom, having gathered some thoughts and memories on paper, prior to her interview at the church. "He was a natural wanderer and lived a life some of us can only imagine."

Forstrom said her son was gentle and soft-spoken, with the ability for "profound thinking and writing" -- he had an "enigmatic flip side" that kept him aloof, and sometimes his family didn't hear from him for stretches of time. As a member of the Boilermakers Local No. 647, he traveled on his job for weeks at a time.

As a child, she writes, he loved his dog, Spirit, a stuffed Santa doll, books, cartoons, skiing and snowboarding and hunting with his father and younger brother, Kyle. He grew up in Superior and graduated from Superior Senior High School.

In addition to her written thoughts, Forstrom on Friday shared some photographs:

A slightly faded color photo shows the sweet, puffy face of a newborn, cradled in his mother's arms. Although the mother's face is not shown, the hospital name band is visible on her wrist, the nursery of the former St. Joseph's Holy Family Hospital in Billings Park is slightly out of focus, in the background.

"Moms ... we all work so hard to keep our kids safe. It's the moms who are hit the hardest," said Forstrom.

And then she picked up a more contemporary photo, showing her son at 25, cradling his own son, Zakary. Schrieffer's lips are brushed against the infant's forehead -- a moment of tenderness captured forever on film.

"He was not untouched by heartache," wrote Forstrom, "but he remained hopeful. He had plans for the future, especially with Zakary."

There are other photos: a chubby-cheeked 4-year-old holding a puppy, a slightly nervous looking adolescent as a greeter at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Billings Park, a smiling, white-robed teen-ager at confirmation, a reflective man looking out over the Arizona landscape at dusk.

But the most recent shows her son last fall, the afternoon sun in his face, his jacket thrown over his shoulder. "He's saying good-bye," said Forstrom.

There is a message that arises from the grief: "Don't forget to hug your kids, call your mom. You never know when it's going to be your last conversation.

"I can't even think about the future right now," said Forstrom. "I have a loving family and a wonderful husband, a deep spiritual faith. But it's everything I can do to go to work."

Forstrom is a physical therapist assistant at Beverly Health and Rehabilitation Center in Superior. She lives in Cloquet with her husband, Leon. Her youngest son, Kyle, 23, lives in Superior and celebrated his college graduation just two days before his brother is believed to have died.

Forstrom's former husband, Gene Schrieffer, father of Erik and Kyle, lives in Anoka with his wife Susan.

The family is planning a memorial.

"Time will tell," said Forstrom. "We'll know someday. Sometimes you just have to stand back and let the professionals do their job."

She said her faith gives her peaceful images even after visiting the crime scene.

"For some crazy reason, I feel Erik's lying outside, just like he's lying in a casket ... just a part of the earth ... lying there with no jacket.

"God knows what to do," said Forstrom. "I have to have faith, otherwise I'd just fall into a big, old black hole."

She said she feels an empathy for the mother of the suspect. "It's not in her control. She's a mom just like the rest of us."

Susan Anderson is a reporter for the Superior Daily Telegram, a Murphy McGinnis Newspaper.