Reward Fund Being Converted to Help Abused Children

Associated Press, carried in Duluth News Tribune
January 6, 2006

HUDSON, Wis. - Unclaimed reward money in the slayings of two funeral home workers nearly four years ago will be converted to a civic fund to help groups that assist abused children, the widow of one of the victims said.

"We all have a responsibility to do the right thing. To stand up. I want to help prevent child abuse. And Dan would have supported this wholeheartedly," Jennie O'Connell said.

Her husband, Dan, 39, and James Ellison, 22, were fatally shot at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home on Feb. 5, 2002.

In October, St. Croix County Circuit Judge Eric Lundell ruled there was probable cause that the late Rev. Ryan Erickson of St. Patrick's Catholic Church killed the men and that he had molested at least one teenage boy.

District Attorney Eric Johnson said evidence suggested O'Connell found out the priest was sexually abusing someone, was providing alcohol to minors, or both.

Erickson hanged himself Dec. 19, 2004, at his new parish in Hurley after police questioned him about the funeral home slayings.

Before Erickson surfaced as a suspect in the slayings, a $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer, most of it from donations from people in Hudson and Barron, Ellison's hometown.

A five-member committee of people who knew Dan O'Connell, including his widow, decided the money could best be used to support organizations that assist abused children, such as the St. Croix Valley Sexual Assault Response Team, along with educational programs to ensure the welfare of children.

The committee is planning fundraisers to keep supporting the Dan O'Connell Leadership Fund, Jennie O'Connell said, adding that she hopes the couple's two children, now 11 and 13 years old, will head the fund someday.


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