Hundreds attend funeral for slain Montana teacher

Mar 31, 2012, 2:41 AM

SIDNEY, Mont. (AP) – Residents of a tight-knit eastern Montana town mixed calls for justice with sorrowful relief Friday as they mourned a high school teacher who was kidnapped, strangled and her body buried in a shallow grave discovered after two months of searching.

Hundreds of people filled the Sidney High School gymnasium for Sherry Arnold’s funeral, held in the same school where Arnold taught for 18 years, where her husband Gary still teaches and her two children attend classes.

The mourners took their seats under flickering images of Arnold and before a casket covered by roses and a Chicago Cubs baseball cap for her favorite team.

Arnold went missing after going for a jog on the morning of Jan. 7. Prosecutors said she was kidnapped by two men from Colorado who had arrived looking for work in the oil fields.

The brutal killing shocked the Sidney community that was already dealing with the growing pains of the nearby boom in the North Dakota oil fields.

Some said they were relieved that her body was found so that they could have closure. Some said they wanted to see their beloved teacher’s killers punished.

“We want to see justice,” Cody Schroeder, a junior at the high school and one of Arnold’s past students, told the Billings Gazette (

The Rev. Ned Shinnick told the mourners that instead of vengeance, they should focus their energy and love of Arnold on building up the community.

“I hear there are thoughts of vengeance,” he said. “What does vengeance really do? Let us not think of revenge. Let us not think of violence.”

Shinnick, a priest with St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, spoke of Arnold’s athletic prowess and her influence in the community and said she was taken in her greatest hour.

For many, the service reopened wounds not yet healed from the weeks Arnold was missing.

“She meant so much to all of us,” said Cheryl Moran, whose children learned math from Arnold. “It’s a relief they found her body. But it drags up the feelings of two months ago.”

Michael Spell, 22, and Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, were arrested a week after Arnold’s disappearance. Prosecutors have said Spell told investigators that he pulled Arnold into a car and Waters choked her to death before burying her in a shallow grave on a farmstead near Williston, N.D.

Spell tried to lead FBI agents to the burial site but failed. The search went on until Arnold’s body was found near Williston last week.

Spell and Waters have pleaded not guilty to aggravated kidnapping and await trial. The men, both from Parachute, Colo., were being held on bail of $2.5 million each.

Several businesses closed and classes ended early for the funeral, and the 2,000-person capacity gymnasium was nearly filled.

Sidney Public Schools Superintendent Dan Farr extended his condolences to Arnold’s husband, Gary, and to her parents, Ron and Sharon, and to her children. He also praised the community for the support it has shown over the last two months.

“I look out on the gym today and I can only feel proud,” Farr said. “Your actions, your emails, even the little hugs, have meant so much to the family, to staff and to students.”

Arnold was buried at the Sidney cemetery after the service.


Information from: Billings Gazette,

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Hundreds attend funeral for slain Montana teacher