BONAPARTE, Iowa (AP) — Even a year later, residents of this tiny, scenic town struggle with the details of the heinous crime that brought national headlines.
The five-member Bentler family, by all accounts a fixture in this community of 400 or so, apparently all killed by their own son and brother, Shawn Bentler.
“It’s still hard to believe something like this could happen here,” said Peggy Troutman, owner of Bonaparte Mercantile. “I try not to think about it, but it’s difficult, even after all this time.”
Like many here, Troutman had connections with the Bentlers. Her son went to school with Shawn Bentler. Now, she said, her son rarely speaks of his former friend.
In May, Bentler, of Quincy, Ill., of five counts of first-degree murder for shooting deaths of his parents, Michael and Sandra Bentler, and his teenage sisters, Sheena, Shelby and ShaynDe.
Authorities said he wanted the family’s inheritance from a lucrative grain business that Michael Bentler owned. Bentler has been ordered to serve five life sentences in prison, including four concurrently and one consecutively, although he has appealed his conviction.
Resident say the Bentler family’s presence can still be felt here. During a recent hayrack ride, for example, some said memories of the family came flooding back as the route traveled past the gravel driveway that used to lead to the Bentler’s home.
“It’s been tough,” Troutman said. “It still hurts to think about it.”
The impact was especially acute at Harmony High School, near Bonaparte, where each of the sisters attended school.
“We still have students going to counseling,” said Tim Peterson, the school’s superintendent. “We are a small school, and everybody knew the girls. Our kids are just trying to be kids. It has been difficult at times, but we have all pulled together.”
In recent months, friends and classmates have created online tributes to the girls, including groups on Web sites such as Facebook and Myspace. On YouTube, a four-minute movie features photographs of the sisters set to music. The photos show the girls hanging out with friends, hunting and riding horses.
On Sunday, the anniversary of the deaths, residents were planning to hold a formal memorial service and visit the Bonaparte Cemetery, where flowers and wreaths have been placed in tribute.
Members of the Bentler and Mendez families will gather to pay tribute to their loved ones at St. Bonafice Catholic Church in Farmington, where the Bentlers worshipped.
Even those who did not know the Bentler’s seem to have been affected.
Near the cemetery gates last week, Janice Morgan of Freeport, Ill., paused and looked up the hill toward the family’s resting place. Morgan was in Bonaparte when news of the murders broke. She said she returned to town to pay her respects.
“I don’t even know them, but my heart goes out to them,” Morgan said. “I love visiting this area, but this year I knew I had to come to pay my respects to that family. I have kept up with the case online. You don’t have to know them personally to know this is a terrible loss to the community.”