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Mother pleads guilty to harboring son after Fond du Lac homicide

Little Fawn Fohrenkam will face sentencing in late October, while Joseph Fohrenkam contests a third-degree murder charge in the fatal shooting of his friend, Joseph Peterson.


A Brevator Township woman has admitted to harboring her son in a bid to avoid authorities after he allegedly killed his friend on their Fond du Lac Reservation property in December.

Little Fawn Fohrenkam, 39, pleaded guilty to a felony count of aiding an offender to avoid arrest at a Thursday hearing in State District Court in Duluth.

Authorities said she drove her son, Joseph James Fohrenkam, across the state and concealed him for several days after he fatally shot the victim, 16-year-old Joseph James Peterson, while showing off a gun inside a car.

Little Fawn Fohrenkam.jpg
Little Fawn Fohrenkam


The mother and son shaved their heads and allegedly ditched their car before being located by authorities in an apartment near White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen County, Minnesota, where Little Fawn Fohrenkam gave a false name and Joseph Fohrenkam was found hiding in a couch.

Joseph Fohrenkam, 18, is still facing third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges.

PREVIOUSLY: Witnesses recount shooting that killed 16-year-old on Fond du Lac Reservation One witness told police Joseph Fohrenkam was "showing off" his pistol while a group of five were sitting in a truck drinking alcohol.
According to court documents, he and Peterson were among five young people drinking alcohol in a car outside the defendant's house, 3609 Giiniw Road, in the early morning hours of Dec. 28.

The three other occupants later told police that Joseph Fohrenkam was waving a firearm around, "pointing the gun at everyone in the truck (and) messing around" when he suddenly shot Peterson.

A criminal complaint indicates that the witnesses were intoxicated and did not all clearly observe what led up to the gunshot, but one said Joseph Fohrenkam may have accidentally bumped the center console while putting the gun away, causing it to fire.

Joseph James Fohrenkam.jpg
Joseph James Fohrenkam

Joseph Fohrenkam allegedly could be heard arguing with his mother during a 911 call placed by one of the witnesses. The other witnesses were allegedly directed to leave the residence before police arrived, and the first officers on scene only located Peterson in the back seat of the truck.


The Fohrenkams were on the run for more than a week before they were located Jan. 6 in Mahnomen, Minnesota. Officers said Little Fawn Fohrenkam admitted to driving her son away from the shooting scene and then hiding her car.

The mother has remained on conditional release since her arraignment in January. Judge Eric Hylden ordered an investigation of her background ahead of sentencing on Oct. 25.

Fond du Lac homicide locator Fohrenkam/Peterson December 2020
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Meanwhile, Joseph Fohrenkam was in court Monday. Defense attorney William Gatton dropped a request for an evidentiary hearing but maintained a motion to dismiss the third-degree murder charge for a lack of probable cause. Hylden ordered Gatton and St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme to submit written briefs over the next several weeks.

Joseph Fohrenkam remains in the St. Louis County Jail on $400,000 bail.

PREVIOUSLY: Brevator Township man to contest murder charge in Fond du Lac shooting A ruling this week from the Minnesota Supreme Court has added a new wrinkle in the prosecution's effort to achieve a more substantial conviction in a teen's December death.
One of the witnesses to the shooting, Trae Dillon Shabaiash, also has been charged with aiding an offender by concealing evidence of the crime. According to a criminal complaint filed in late May, Shabaiash was the one who placed the 911 call before fleeing the scene on foot.

Shabaiash, who had warrants at the time, allegedly admitted in a Dec. 31 statement to investigators that he took Fohrenkam's pistol and tossed it in the woods. He did not disclose that in his initial interview with authorities, saying he wanted to protect Fohrenkam, according to the complaint.


Investigators said Shabaiash was able to lead them back to the scene, where the handgun was recovered under a tree branch in the snow.

Shabaiash, 26, is scheduled to be back in court on Sept. 17.

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