Suspect arraigned in friend's shooting death on Fond du Lac Reservation

The defendant's mother also was jailed but still awaiting formal charges Friday afternoon.

Joseph James Fohrenkam.jpg
Joseph James Fohrenkam
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Bail has been set at $400,000 for an 18-year-old Brevator Township man accused of fatally shooting his friend last week on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Joseph James Fohrenkam was arraigned Friday before Judge Theresa Neo in State District Court in Duluth. He is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the Dec. 28 death of Joseph James Peterson, 16, of the Cloquet area.

Fohrenkam was arrested Wednesday on the White Earth Reservation in Mahnomen County after a law enforcement search spanning more than a week. His mother, Littlefawn Fohrenkam, 38, also was arrested on a preliminary charge of aiding an offender to avoid arrest.

Both were transferred to the St. Louis County Jail on Thursday evening. Littlefawn Fohrenkam had not been formally charged as of Friday afternoon.


Little Fawn Fohrenkam.jpg
Littlefawn Fohrenkam

The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and Fond du Lac police responded to the shooting report at the Fohrenkams' residence, 3609 Giiniw Road, shortly after 1:15 a.m. Authorities said Peterson's body was found in the back of a pickup truck, but no one else remained on the premises.

PREVIOUSLY: 16-year-old shot, killed on Fond du Lac Reservation Officers are looking to speak with people who left the scene before law enforcement arrived early Monday morning.
According to court documents, a man had called 911 to report the shooting and request an ambulance. In the background, Joseph and Littlefawn Fohrenkam could allegedly be heard arguing about the incident.

Investigators later spoke with three witnesses who said they were with Fohrenkam and Peterson.

In three interviews with witnesses, investigators learned that five people, including Fohrenkam and Peterson, were in the vehicle at the time of the shooting, a criminal complaint states. All three witnesses told police that the group was drinking alcohol while sitting in the truck.

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

The first witness told police Fohrenkam was in the driver's seat and the victim was sitting in the back middle seat when he heard gunfire inside the truck. The witness, 18, saw blood under the victim's eye and Fohrenkam leave the vehicle holding a firearm, the complaint said. After running inside, the witness heard about eight more gunshots outside, after which he was told to leave.


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.
The second witness recalled similar events, though in more detail. He told police there were no disagreements or arguments; everyone was "just talking," the complaint said. Joseph Fohrenkam was "showing off" his pistol and waving it around. He then pointed it toward the victim in the back seat, the witness said.

The 25-year-old told police he was under the impression that the pistol discharged while Fohrenkam was pulling the firearm back, possibly hitting his arm on the center console. The witness said he then went inside to call 911 and had not been in touch with Fohrenkam since.

According to the complaint, the third witness told police he was blacking out at the time of the shooting. The group was on their second bottle of brandy. He said he saw Fohrenkam waving the firearm around and "pointing it at everyone in the truck." At one point, Fohrenkam removed the magazine and racked the slide back. He thought a round had ejected.

The witness, 17, told police he was trying to ignore Fohrenkam. While closing his eyes for a short amount of time, he heard a loud sound followed with what he described as the smell of a recently fired gun. While leaving the scene, he said he saw Fohrenkam shooting the gun an unknown amount of times at a bottle on the ground, or at the truck.

Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Fohrenkam is scheduled to be back in court on Feb. 1. The case has been assigned to Judge Eric Hylden.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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