Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Update on the High Desert Museum Investigation

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 4:05 PM

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel released the following update on the investigation into the High Desert Museum shooting:

At 3:25 PM yesterday, May 31st, a 911 call was placed from the High Desert Museum. The High Desert Museum is Central Oregon’s backyard. For more than 30 years the Museum has enchanted us with the natural world, and with the cultural history of the West’s High Desert. But yesterday was anything but enchanting.

The 911 caller reported that a man was holding a female and threatening to kill her. That man was Nicholas Berger, a 36 year old Caucasian man who had recently moved to Bend. For reasons that are unknown at this time, Berger, a patron at the museum, grabbed a 38 year old female employee in the gift shop.

Berger took the woman against her will out of the gift shop. A violent struggle ensued, as the woman fought for her life. Berger was 6 foot 6 inches and weighed 425 pounds. The woman is 5 foot 3 inches and petite. Berger forced the woman through various exhibit halls in the museum. He had his arm around her neck and he had a knife.

Numerous patrons were present. Throughout the day the museum had 269 visitors, including 36 students. These students included 4th graders from Maupin. In the immediate vicinity of the incident were approximately 30 patrons.

Among those 30 patrons were a few heroes. These individuals, at great risk to their own lives, intervened in an effort to protect the museum employee. She was eventually released by Berger and ran to safety.

Oregon State Police Troopers and Deschutes County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived quickly on the scene. When they arrived they encountered Berger. An OSP Trooper deployed a Taser and this same Trooper also fired three shots at Berger. Bend Fire and Rescue was soon on the scene and declared Berger dead.

My sympathies go out to the Nicholas Berger’s family. We still do not know why he did what he did, and many no doubt feel animus toward him, but we know his family is suffering and we wish them well.

Almost immediately after the incident the Tri-County Major Crimes Team was activated. The Bend Police Department is the lead agency on this investigation.

The community response to this tragedy has been overwhelming. The Red Cross was on scene until the wee hours this morning. They provided food, blankets and support for museum visitors and investigating officers. Deschutes County Behavioral Health was on the scene to provide support to museum staff and visitors and remains a resource for anyone who is struggling with what they experienced. And our local Costco and Starbucks provided food and beverages to visitors and investigators. It’s hard to keep this community down, and last night was no exception.

Here are the next steps in the investigation:

  • Complete autopsy of Berger and review results (autopsy is happening right now)
  • Interview additional witnesses
  • Examine all museum security videos
  • Conduct interview of OSP Trooper who shot Berger (this is happening tomorrow)
  • After the investigation is completed DA Hummel will decide if he believes a crime was committed by the Trooper who fired the shots.
  • If he thinks a crime was committed he will ask a Deschutes County Grand Jury to charge the officer.
  • If DA Hummel does not think a crime was committed he will decline to initiate criminal charges and he will explain to the public his rationale for his decision.

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