Education | Law

Murder-suicide linked to Indian education grant in South Dakota

Indian students participate in a GEAR UP program in South Dakota. Photo from Facebook

An apparent murder and suicide of six people in South Dakota is being linked to millions of dollars in federal education funds.

Authorities believe Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and four children before setting their home on fire and turning the gun on himself. The deaths occurred last Thursday in the city of Platte.

The incident came one day after the state Department of Education refused to renew a $4.3 million education grant to a company where Westerhuis served as the business manager, the Associated Press reported. The money came from the federal GEAR UP program, which is designed to help low-income students, including Indian students.

Westerhuis was apparently not Indian. But he was registered as an agent for American Indian Institute for Innovation and the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium, the AP reported.

Both organizations received GEAR UP funding through Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, the company where Westerhuis and his wife worked. Records show that Westerhuis and his wife also were employees of both organizations, the AP reported.

The state Department of Education used Mid-Central as the sub-contractor for the GEAR UP funds. A 2015 review by the state Department of Legislative Audit turned up numerous problems with the handling of those funds.

According to the audit, two "senior advisors" at Mid-Central failed to document their work even though Mid-Central charged the state $32,570.83 for the services of those advisors. One of those advisors was identified by The Pierre Capital Journal as Keith Moore, the state's former Indian education director and the former head of the Bureau of Indian Education.

Get the Story:
Probe of South Dakota deaths partly focused on financials (AP 9/23)
$4.3 million contract lost before murder-suicide that killed six (The Sioux Falls Argus Leader 9/23)
S.D. town reels from autopsy report on family of six (The West Central Tribune 9/23)

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