Seeley Swan to Welcome
Recreation | Real
Estate | Events | Lodging
Local History | Churches
| Businesses | News
Teacher Murdered in Middle of Night
A Town Cries
by Gary Noland
For the Pathfinder
October 3, 1996
A teacher was killed in his home early Monday morning and a town began to
cry its loss.
Cliff Nelson, 49, seventh and eighth grade teacher at Seeley Lake Elementary
for the past 20 years, was felled by a single shotgun blast to the head
in his trailer home on Redwood Lane sometime between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m.
News of the fatal shooting began to spread to parents and children as school
began a few hours later, and the tears and emotions began to flow. In 20
years of teaching here Nelson had earned the love and respect of hundreds
of students and parents.
This man, with an extraordinary devotion and talent for teaching, was a
legend that most happily anticipated to be around for many years.
But, an intruder, or intruders, ended his tenure here when he was shot in
the hallway of his mobile home as he apparently went to investigate a call
or noise at the door.
Scott Newell, Deputy Missoula County Sheriff stationed in Seeley Lake, discovered
Nelson dead on the floor of his home after Newell was called out on a "shots
reported" 911 call.
On a second pass through the neighborhood, Newell decided to investigate
the open door of Nelson's mobile home and found Nelson's body on the floor.
Undersheriff Larry Weatherman said Tuesday that it appeared Nelson was on
his way to the door and was felled in the hallway just where it opens into
the living room. It is not known if the front door was locked or not, but
police found no evidence of forced entry.
Newell said Monday Nelson was found in "T-shirt and sweats."
Police are working feverishly on leads and information that might lead to
an arrest in the murder, but as of Tuesday afternoon at 5 p.m., no arrest
had been made.
Missoula County Undersheriff Larry Weatherman said detectives were in Seeley
Lake Tuesday, tracing all leads and information. The investigation has included
questioning many high school students and teachers to "gather information,"
according to Weatherman. He said questioning will be extended to other people
in the next few days.
Robbery was not a motive as nothing was taken and police have not yet established
a motive, Weatherman. "There are some things we're working on, but
we're not at liberty to discuss them," he added.
According to police there appears to be a connection between Nelson's shooting
and shots apparently fired just earlier at the Seeley Swan High School where
an office window was shot out.
It appears those shots were made first as people reported hearing a "couple"
shots, then a single shot later in Nelson's neighborhood a few blocks away,
As school got underway Monday morning, crisis intervention rooms were set
up at the Seeley Elementary school and the high school library was set aside
for students. Local counselors, local pastors and counselors from Missoula
volunteered their services.
"This is something new to us," said Seeley superintendent John
Hebnes, who along with everyone else in this town, was visibly shaken Monday
A memorial service for Cliff Nelson will be held Wednesday, October 2, at
the Seeley Swan High School at 5 p.m.
His family from North Dakota has suggested memorials to the Cliff Nelson
Scholarship Fund at the First Valley Bank, P.O. Box 720, Seeley Lake, MT
Personal letters and cards may be sent to the Cliff Nelson Memorial, P.O.
Box 36, Seeley Lake, MT 59868.
Students, friends express their feelings |
Schools cope with emotional crisis
Relatives speak to over a 1,000 people at Seeley
Lake Memorial Service
Letter from Bighorn National Monument Supervisor
Letter from Virginia historian Bryan Pohanka