'I still don't
feel like it's real'
Death of police officer Jamie Buenting, 37, shocks Rockwell City
September 16, 2013
How to Help...
A fund was set up for Buenting's family at First Community Bank. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 268, Rockwell City, Iowa 50579.
It had never happened here before.
The shooting death of Rockwell City Police Officer Jamie Buenting, 37, early Friday morning sent shock waves through the city.
"It's something we've never gone through, something we didn't have plans to go through," Rockwell City Mayor Phil Heinlen said.
"No one knew what to do, where to go. What the hell do you do?"
Thursday night, officers had responded to a reported sighting of 32-year-old Corey Trott - there was a warrant out for his arrest after he allegedly assaulted his mother and stole $300.
A standoff ensued at 502 Pleasant St., a small, one-story house with peeling sky-blue paint and a large tree stump in the front yard.
After several hours, as a specially trained team of law officers approached the house at about 1:40 a.m., a single gunshot from the house hit Buenting, who was transported to Stewart Memorial Community Hospital in Lake City, where he was pronounced dead.
It wasn't until after 5 a.m. Friday that Trott surrendered to police, left the house and was arrested for first-degree murder.
Trott is being held in Sac County Jail on $500,000 bail. He is set to appear in court on Sept. 23.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has declined to say what type of weapon Trott allegedly fired, where it struck Buenting and whether Buenting was wearing a bullet-proof vest, but a spokesman said the shot from inside the house found its target.
"I do not believe it was an accidental shot," DCI Special Agent in Charge Michael Motsinger said.
The alleged shooter
Corey Trott, 32, was also a resident of Rockwell City. Many of the people who knew Buenting know Trott as well.
Trott had a history of violence, according to court records.
He was charged in 2003 after holding a gun to his sister's head, hitting her and pushing her into a bathtub, court records show.
In 2009, Steve Carse, a Fort Dodge probation and parole officer who supervised Trott's probation for a felony harassment conviction, reported that Trott had threatened him.
Carse said Trott, in a voicemail, accused the parole officer of threatening Carse and his family.
"The message went on to state that he was going to travel to Fort Dodge to collect, and if I thought coming to Calhoun County was safe I needed to rethink this because it was not," Carse said in a statement.
Carse's notes continue, "The defendant stated that due to the threats against him and his family (I) had better start carrying a nine millimeter gun if traveling to Calhoun County."
A judge ruled that Trott violated the terms of his probation and sentenced him to four years in prison. He served two.
While he was in prison, three discipline reports cited fights between Trott and other inmates, said Fred Scaletta, assistant director of the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Officers had a warrant out for Trott last week and had been searching for him for several days after he was accused of assaulting his mother, 64-year-old Marjorie Trott. Court documents state that he kicked and punched her, "causing serious injury," before taking $300 from her.
A call to police that there were lights on and movement inside 502 Pleasant St., which is listed under Marjorie Trott's name, prompted them to surround the house. An eight-hour standoff ensued.
About halfway through that standoff, a single shot from within the house hit and killed officer Buenting.
'He was my idol'
Buenting is survived by his wife, Mandy; son, Ethan; and daughter, Kalie. Although Motsinger declined to provide the children's ages, he described them both as young.
"The most important thing right now is to take care of the family, and not just in the coming weeks and months, but the months after that," Heinlen said. "And the city has plans to do that."
The day after he died, many of Buenting's neighbors lowered the American flags on their front lawns to half-staff.
They described a man who would drive to Fort Dodge to get a sump pump for an older neighbor with a flooded basement and then help another neighbor cut down a tree, who loved hunting and fishing and would welcome a visit in the evening when he was working in his yard, who would pull up his cruiser in their driveways just to talk, whose dogs sometimes got loose but weren't a nuisance, and who made them feel safe just because he was there.
When neighbor Betty Van Gundy, 74, moved into her house down the street three years ago, Buenting was the first to welcome her. He came over and brought her a loaf of bread he'd made.
The man could bake, she said. The bread was good.
Randy Martin, 56, principal at South Central Calhoun High School, also lived nearby, but he knew the police officer most from his work at the school.
"We'd bring him in when a kid was being stupid," he said with a smile.
Buenting would tell the students-in-question what would happen if he had to investigate their actions. The gentle warning usually worked, Martin said - students decided they'd rather deal with the school than the police.
"Jamie always listened to the kids," Martin said. "He treated them well."
His influence was clear. Austin Heilman, 26, lives in Rockwell City and studied criminology at the University of Iowa. He said Buenting used to let Heilman ride around with him on patrol.
"He was my idol," Heilman said. "He's the reason I wanted to be a cop."
Buenting was friendly with everyone - the town's librarians, the young sales associates at the Kum & Go on High Street. They recalled taking his permit-to-carry classes and going on late-night fishing trips with him.
"He'd stop and come in, tell you stories and see how your day was going," said Kenzi Bader, 19, who works at Kum & Go. "I still don't feel like it's real. I'm still waiting for him to pull up and come in and start talking."
Buenting had been an officer in Rockwell City for eight years and was one of four full-time officers in Rockwell City. He taught classes at Iowa Firearms Safety & Tactics on the side.
The company provides firearms training to law-enforcement officers and others. Whenever Buenting taught a firearms class in the city courthouse, the surrounding blocks were lined with cars, Heinlen said.
"He had a passion for what he did, and he did it well," Heinlen said.
Buenting was set to teach one of the classes the day after he was killed.
'No one knew what to do'
Rockwell City is home to about 1,700 people.
"It's a nice, quiet little town," library assistant Monica Wuebker said. "People care about each other."
The town's police officers were no different. Everyone knew them, and everyone talked to them, Wuebker said. They were just regular people.
Rockwell City hasn't had a police officer killed on-duty before, Police Chief Larry Schoop said at a Friday news conference.
When Heinlen left his home the morning of the shooting, he drove down the same street he always drives down, but it felt different.
"It was eerily quiet," the mayor said Saturday. "Nobody was moving. It's still eerily quiet."
Although the city is mourning Buenting right now, he said, practical matters can't be ignored. His family needs to be taken care of - and the city needs to hire a new police officer.
Since one of Rockwell City's current officers has been in and out of the office while on medical leave, only two full-time officers are currently on-duty.
"They're tired," Heinlen said. "They need some time off."
Some relief came in the form of the Iowa chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, a national organization made up of law-enforcement officers and others connected with a first responder who died in the line of duty. Four of them have been in Rockwell City since Friday, pulling from surrounding agencies to help staff the city's police department for a few days and working with Buenting's family.
"A small department like this, they don't know where to start," said Eric Nieland, 27, an Iowa City police officer and the Iowa organization's vice president. "They're all so close. They're grieving as much as they can right now, and we help as much as we can."
The four will stay at least through Tuesday's funeral, which they are helping arrange.
"We honor the fallen by making sure the living are taken care of," Nieland said. "We're out here making sure we never forget."
Outside the police station, four flags were flown at half-staff Saturday - an American flag, an Iowa flag, a standard law-enforcement flag and a "thin blue line" flag. The fourth features a black outline in the shape of the state of Iowa with a blue line bisecting it and states "Honoring our fallen officers. In valor there is hope." The blue line represents the thin line between good and evil for law-enforcement officers.
There was also a memorial for Buenting outside the police station, on the police cruiser he drove. Throughout the day Friday and Saturday, residents placed mementos on the car's hood - flowers, an angel figurine, stuffed animals, black ribbons.
A black cloth covered the windshield with the same blue line as the one on the flag.
"It's a symbol that he's out of service," Nieland said.
From a trade trip in India, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad issued this response to Buenting's death:
"This is a devastating loss that again reminds us of the harm faced on a daily basis by our brave public safety officers. We must never take for granted the work carried out by our public safety officers, and must be ever thankful to officers like Jamie Buenting for keeping our families safe."
Although Rockwell City is in shock, it's a tough city, Heinlen said.
"Nobody will ever forget Jamie - we don't want them to - but we'll get through it," he said.
Lynch's Mainstreet Bar & Grill, just across the street from Rockwell City's police department, was full and loud Saturday evening for the University of Iowa vs. Iowa State University football game.
Decked out in red-and-yellow shirts, patrons catcalled and thumped each other on the shoulder - sometimes reaching around babies in laps.
Before the game was done, the bar cleared out. Forgetting the colors of their shirts, patrons lined up side-by-side on a street corner and joined hundreds of others who came to watch the procession that would accompany Buenting's body back to Rockwell City from an autopsy in Des Moines.
People of all ages, some wearing police uniforms and others sporting hats with the symbols of various military branches, lined up with American flags. Although rain sprinkled down, few bothered with umbrellas.
The procession that circled through the city and drove the three blocks from the police station to Palmer & Swank Funeral Home included dozens of law-enforcement vehicles from around the state and lasted close to 10 minutes.
After the vehicles dispersed, having gone farther down the road to the funeral home, those lining the streets didn't move or speak for several moments. Finally, the first few people began to leave, prompting a slow exodus and quiet conversations.
One women whispered: "It makes me sick."
Buenting's visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Palmer & Swank Funeral Home, 528 Main St. in Rockwell City. His funeral is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the South Central Calhoun Middle School gymnasium, 1000 Tonawanda St. in Rockwell City.