Youngest shooter in Basswood Lake case pleads guilty

A 37-year-old brought the guns and was oldest the adult in the group who didn't stop a night of terror. And an 18-year-old brought the boat and planned the trip.

Photo: Basswood Lake
This 2005 photo shows Basswood Lake, which is where six Ely residents terrorized campers on Aug. 7, 2007. [2005 file by Jim Orcutt / For the News Tribune]

A 37-year-old brought the guns and was oldest the adult in the group who didn't stop a night of terror. And an 18-year-old brought the boat and planned the trip.

But prosecutors say a 16-year-old boy may have been the most out of control on the night of Aug. 7, 2007, when six Ely residents terrorized campers on Basswood Lake with guns, fireworks and verbal threats of rape and torture.

Matthew Bernard Urbas, now 18, avoided a trial set to start today by pleading guilty in district court in Two Harbors. Urbas had been charged with 23 felony, gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor charges stemming from the incident.

Under the agreement reached today in court, Urbas pleaded guilty to six charges, including felony aiding and abetting terroristic threats, felony aiding and abetting harassment with a firearm, felony aiding and abetting criminal damage to property, being a minor in possession of a firearm, theft and reckless discharge of a firearm.

Urbas' case moves to a judge in St. Louis County for sentencing, probably in Virginia in March.


Under the plea agreement, Urbas will serve no more than 270 days in Arrowhead Juvenile Center or a juvenile residential treatment center. But the judge will have great leeway in determining how long and where Urbas will be detained, if at all.

Urbas was the last of the six suspects to plead guilty.

In court today, Urbas admitted to the crimes but repeatedly said he didn't recall details of the night of Aug. 7, saying he drank several beers while motoring around Basswood Lake with his friends.

According to the criminal complaint, Urbas conceded to police at his arrest that he was "pretty drunk'' but admitted to firing an assault-style, semi-automatic rifle repeatedly and screaming obscenities, including, according to Asst. Lake County Attorney Laura Auron in one court document, "some of the most disturbing and threatening statements'' made to campers that night.

According to court records, Urbas told law enforcement officers after his arrest that the group harassed campers in an effort at "defending his territory' -- meaning the BWCAW -- against people who were "taking it away."

"He can claim he drank so much he doesn't remember, but the evidence, including the testimony of all his companions, shows a pretty high degree of culpability,'' Auron said after court today.

Prosecutors say more than 80 people were in the area of the shootings that night, with more than 20 directly affected by the men's actions. Some people said they feared for their lives.

All of the men still face potential misdemeanor federal charges for illegal travel in the BWCAW as well as serious charges for illegally crossing into and firing guns in Canada.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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