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Teacher Murdered in Middle of Night

Cliff Nelson

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. Monday.

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, Weatherman said.

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 morning.

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 59868.

Personal letters and cards may be sent to the Cliff Nelson Memorial, P.O. Box 36, Seeley Lake, MT 59868.

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