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.

Joseph Fohrenkam.jpg
Joseph James Fohrenkam (Photo courtesy of St. Louis County Sheriff's Office)

Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 31 with the victim's name and additional details.

DULUTH — The St. Louis County Sheriff's office has identified the 16-year-old boy who was killed Monday, Dec. 28, in a shooting on the Fond du Lac Reservation in St. Louis County as Joseph James Peterson .

Peterson was from Cloquet, Minn., on the Fond du Lac Reservation, according to the sheriff's office.

"Joe was very funny, loving and kind," reads his obituary posted to Red Lake Nation News. "He was always hungry, rapping and generous. Joe loved to dance, and was known by his close friends and family as a 'Flex God.' He was always telling everyone that he loved them and always gave big hugs whenever anyone saw him. Joe always said his friends are his brothers. He will be remembered by everyone and missed dearly. Joe loved his family very much, especially his great-grandmother, Patricia."

Joseph James Fohrenkam, 18, from Cloquet, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in Peterson's death.


Peterson's body was found in a truck around 1:30 a.m. Monday. The St. Louis County Attorney's office issued a warrant Tuesday for Fohrenkam's arrest. St. Louis Sheriff's Office said his whereabouts were unknown.

Fohrenkam and Peterson knew each other, according to the criminal complaint. In three interviews with witnesses Monday and Tuesday, law enforcement heard that five people, including Fohrenkam and Peterson, were in a vehicle on Giiniw Road at the time of the fatal shooting, according to the criminal complaint. All three witnesses, who had fled the scene before officers arrived, told police that the group was drinking alcohol while sitting in the truck.

The first witness told police Fohrenkam was sitting in the driver's seat and Peterson was sitting in the back middle seat when the witness heard gunfire inside the car. The witness saw blood under Peterson's eye and Fohrenkam leave the vehicle holding a firearm, the complaint said. The witness ran inside, and heard about eight more gunshots outside. The residents of the house asked the witness to leave.

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

The second witness was under the impression that the pistol discharged while Fohrenkam was pulling the firearm back, possibly hitting his arm on the center console.

That witness went inside to call 911. He told police he had not been in touch with the Fohrenkam since.

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


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.

He told police he was trying to ignore Fohrenkam. While closing his eyes for a short amount of time, he heard a loud sound followed by what he described as the smell of a recently fired gun.

The third witness said that while leaving the scene, he saw Fohrenkam shooting the gun an unknown amount of times at a bottle on the ground, or at the truck.

Joseph Fohrenkam is believed to be with his mother , Littlefawn Fohrenkam, 38, and may still be in possession of a 9 mm handgun.

Call 911 or 218-625-3581 if you have information regarding this case. The sheriff's office said Joseph Fohrenkam has connections in the Minneapolis area as well as areas of Wisconsin.

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