On Thursday, April 6 at 1:00 p.m., St. Olaf student Waylon Kurts was arrested in Edina by the Northfield Police Department on suspicion of making terroristic threats. Kurts, who was a second-year at the time, was taken to the Rice County Jail and charged with conspiracy to commit second degree assault with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit threats of violence, conspiracy to commit theft, and terroristic threats. In a filing in Rice County District Court, Assistant Attorney Karthryn Burbank, citing an affidavit signed by Northfield Police, stated that police had “discovered that a St. Olaf Student – Waylon Kurts – had been planning a massive casualty event.”
On Wednesday, April 5 at 11:00 a.m., a campus custodian reported to St. Olaf Public Safety the discovery of shipping packaging for high-capacity firearm magazines in a St. Olaf trash container, addressed to Kurts at an off-campus address. Following the report, St. Olaf Public Safety searched Kurts’ room and found a tactical vest, propane tanks, fireworks, lighter fluid, empty magazine and ammunition boxes, notebooks containing Kurts’ writings, an empty 24-round Glock magazine, knives, and other articles of concern. In email correspondence with the Olaf Messenger, St. Olaf General Counsel Carl Crosby Lehmann ’91 wrote, “we are so fortunate that this custodian observed the package, understood what it was, and immediately contacted the proper authorities. That person is a hero. All of our custodians are heroes in my book.”
The search revealed a hand-drawn map of Skoglund-Tostrud, a detailed plan to steal rifle ammunition, and notes on the creation of a “shoot house,” a close-quarters combat training location used by military and law enforcement personnel. Kurts’ writings referred to “we” and “us.” In an April 10 criminal complaint, the State of Minnesota has alleged that Kurts was in contact with at least one co-conspirator. “There is no evidence that anyone in or near the St. Olaf community was involved,” wrote Lehmann. In a meeting with the Student Government Association, Director of Public Safety Derek Kruse said that there had been no concerning messages or threats from the co-conspirators to the campus and that they posed no threat in Minnesota.
In an interview with Kruse following his room search, Kurts said he was a firearm enthusiast and believed that the items did not contradict school policy. In an email exchange with the Olaf Messenger, Lehmann disagreed with Kurts’ claims: “It definitely violates our Student Code of Conduct for a student to possess things like knives, fireworks, and gun clips in their residence hall room.” When asked by Kruse for permission to search his car, Kurts denied permission, but said he would allow the Northfield Police Department to do so if they obtained a warrant. Later that day, the College contacted the Northfield Police, who began to search for Kurts.
The College suspended Kurts from the school and barred him from campus. Kurts spent Wednesday night in the residence of an unidentified individual. The same evening, Kurts logged a nine-mile run around Lake Harriet in Southwestern Minneapolis on Strava, a run-tracking social media platform. He was arrested the next afternoon.
In his interview with Kruse, Kurts had claimed that he kept his firearms at Modern Sportsman, a gun dealer and shooting range in Burnsville, Minn. Kurts’ family had informed Kruse that his firearms were at home in Vermont. Court documents filed in Kurts’ case reveal that Modern Sportsman employees recognized Kurts as a regular visitor who shot at their range, but they did not offer gun storage services. After the arrest, police retrieved a duffel bag Kurts had brought with him containing a cell phone, laptop, and handheld radios, but no firearms. At this point, the police have not reported any firearms found in connection to the case in Minnesota.
St. Olaf Public Safety had previously interacted with Kurts on Dec. 19, 2022 at 2:00 a.m. Kurts was reported to have been looking into vehicle windows on campus. Initially, Kurts provided Public Safety with a fake name and claimed to be visiting a friend at St. Olaf. After Public Safety threatened involving the Northfield Police Department, Kurts gave his real name and said he was a St. Olaf student. When asked what he was doing, Kurts said he was purposefully acting suspicious to see if Public Safety would intervene.
Minnesota’s 36- and 48-hour rules normally demand that a suspect arrested without a warrant, as Kurts was, be brought before a judge within 36 hours and be released in 48 hours unless a judge has signed a criminal complaint against them or determined probable cause exists of them having committed a crime. Prosecutors filed a request for Kurt’s continued detention soon after his arrest.
In a memorandum filed in support of the request for continued detention, state prosecutors argued: “This is a unique case with unique public safety concerns. Defendant was planning a mass casualty event apparently with the assistance of others. Law enforcement needs time to continue their investigation specifically, into Defendant’s electronics as well as time to ensure the safety of staff, students, and faculty at St. Olaf.”
Judge Karie Anderson accepted prosecutors’ request and extended Kurts’ detention until the 4:30 p.m. on April 10, the following Monday.
Kurts was charged Monday morning with three felonies: conspiracy to commit second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit terrorist threats of bodily harm, and terroristic threats of bodily harm, as well as one theft misdemeanor. Later that day, defense attorney Paul W. Rogosheske of the St. Paul, Minn. firm Rogosheske, Rogosheske, & Atkins filed a certificate of representation for Kurts. In Minnesota, conspiracy to commit a felony carries one half of the penalty associated with the underlying crime; a charge of second-degree assault with a firearm and intent to inflict bodily harm carries a maximum of seven years in prison.
In reporting by Paul Walsh of the Star Tribune, Rogosheske was quoted as saying Kurts “has some things that look funny” and that he “draws a lot of maps.” In an email exchange with the Olaf Messenger, Rogosheske wrote “You [The Olaf Messenger], like all the press, want to convict people based on probable cause. It only takes probable cause to arrest somebody. It takes proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict somebody. [. . .] He [Kurts] is presumed innocent and when all the evidence comes out, then we will see what happens. In the meantime, he is prohibited from coming on the campus and he is leaving the State [sic]. So the people at St. Olaf should not be concerned in any way, shape or form.”
Kurts’ arrest and the revelations about his alleged collection of weapons and the apparent violent plans found in his notebooks has come as a surprise to the St. Olaf community. When The Olaf Messenger spoke to individuals who knew Kurts personally, he was generally characterized as outgoing and friendly. He was an athlete on the men’s cross country team and had recently declared a major in philosophy.
A cross country athlete who spoke to the Messenger described Kurts as “very outgoing, and someone who could have a conversation with anyone.” They said that he was a “free floater” who had been loosely involved in the team, only sparsely attending practice. The teammate said that Kurts was not a loner and that he had been good friends with several teammates and was close with his roommate. “I never got the sense that he had any animosity towards the cross team.”
Kurts’ acquaintances were unsure whether he held extremist political beliefs. He had “some strange takes or views,” and was characterized by his teammate as being “very anti-government and anti-institution, and possibly anti-vaccine… [but] he was never a person that you would pin down as one thing or another.”
His teammate knew that he was a hunter and camper and believed he owned knives and propane for those purposes. They were not aware of guns or ammunition that Kurts could have been storing in Minnesota. They stressed that most of Kurts’ behavior was not strange enough to be truly concerning to anyone, but that it was disturbing to consider in hindsight. They said, “it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s strange because I never thought of him as a violent person…there’s a cognitive dissonance between what was in that notebook versus the kooky guy that was on the team. In the past few weeks, we’ve just been trying to lean on each other.”
Kurts’ bail was set Monday morning at $100,000 with conditions including GPS monitoring, a prohibition on travel to the St. Olaf campus, and the surrender of all firearms to Northfield Police. Terms of Kurts’ release were later amended to permit surrender of arms to Vermont police in light of Kurts’ apparent plan to return to his family home there. A correspondence to the court from defense attorney Rogosheske indicates that Kurts’ mother wished for his continued detention so she could return to Vermont and ensure the house was safe for his arrival. As of April 19, 2023, Kurts remains listed as an inmate on the Rice County jail roster.
Kurts’ next hearing is scheduled for Friday, April 21. Olaf Messenger reporters will attend the virtual hearing as part of our ongoing reporting on the case.