Westberg family looking for answers
MARSHALL – It was something that didn’t need to happen, they said. More than two weeks after former Marshall resident Jacob Daniel “JD” Westberg was shot and killed by Sioux Falls Police, members of Westberg’s family said the question was still, why?
“It wasn’t justified,” Jacob’s father Gary Westberg said of the shooting. “What happened to him was a great injustice to who he really was.”
“JD was not a bad kid,” Jacob’s mother Wendy Westberg said. “He needed to talk to somebody.”
At a benefit and memorial gathering held Saturday, the Westbergs said they wanted answers about the standoff with police that led to their son’s death. They also wanted a chance to remember the young man they and other Marshall community members knew so well.
Jacob Westberg, 22, was a 2009 graduate of Marshall High School, and had since moved to Sioux Falls, S.D. Westberg was shot and killed by Sioux Falls police on Oct. 14, after a 911 call was made to report a suicidal man.
According to initial reports of the incident, officers surrounded Westberg’s mobile home in Sioux Falls after learning that a man who had made suicidal threats at the address had fired a gun. S.W.A.T. officers and a negotiator were sent to the scene, but Westberg was shot when he emerged from the mobile home and pointed a rifle at officers, said Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel.
Gary and Wendy Westberg said they had called police that day, after receiving messages from Jacob that troubled them. They said Jacob had been going through an emotionally difficult time with his ex-girlfriend, but they maintain that Jacob wasn’t a threat to other people.
“We just asked them (police) to go over and make sure he was OK,” Wendy Westberg said. “We called for help.”
Family members said they tried to stay in contact with Jacob that evening. Jacob’s brother Matt Westberg said he arrived at the scene after police did, and asked police to let him speak with Jacob.
“I tried to talk to them, but they just pushed me away,” Matt Westberg said.
In addition to the pain of losing Jacob, the Westbergs said they’re frustrated with Sioux Falls police. Wendy Westberg said she and Gary have tried contacting the police department, but haven’t gotten answers to their questions.
“I called four times on Wednesday, three times on Thursday,” and more beyond that, Wendy Westberg said. “They haven’t told us anything.”
“We found out more information on Facebook than we did from them,” Gary Westberg said.
The South Dakota Attorney General’s office has said it will review the shooting and issue a report on whether the use of force was justified in the incident.
The Westbergs said they’re left feeling like they need to clear Jacob’s name.
“In my opinion, it was a wrongful death,” Gary Westberg said. The Sioux Falls P.D.’s procedures need to change, he said. “There are ways of doing things better than this.”
Family members remembered Jacob as a young man who loved hunting and sports, who was looking for a project car to work on with his dad, and who loved his nieces and his young daughter, Avarie.
“He was a little brother to everybody,” Wendy Westberg said.
A fundraiser event to help cover funeral costs for Jacob and to benefit Avarie drew a good-sized crowd to the Marshall Eagles Club on Saturday. Out front, a camouflage-patterned car painted by three of Jacob’s friends was parked underneath a banner reading “Justice for JD.” The Westbergs said they had been approached a group of local residents who wanted to organize the event.
“The support we’ve gotten from the community has been phenomenal,” Wendy Westberg said. She said support from other local parents who have lost children has especially meant a lot. “We’re very grateful.”