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Family opens up on teen murders in Little Falls

One week after a jury found a Little Falls man guilty of murdering two teenage cousins, the victims' families say they hope others heed their story to avoid a similar tragedy.
Little Falls

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - One week after a jury found a Little Falls man guilty of murdering two teenage cousins, the victims' families say they hope others heed their story to avoid a similar tragedy.

"If we can help put off one tragedy, I think both of us would be more than willing to put our two cents worth in," said Steve Schaeffel, grandfather of Nicholas Brady.

Schaeffel and his wife, Bonnie, talked with KARE 11 on Tuesday about the murder trial of 65-year-old Byron Smith who was convicted last week of murdering Brady, 17, and his 18-year-old cousin, Haile Kifer. Also this week, Nick Brady's mother and sister -- Haile's aunt and cousin -- talked with Dateline NBC.

Both conversations began with what happened Thanksgiving Day 2012 -- the day Smith shot Brady and Kifer after the cousins broke into his Little Falls home.

"They were supposed to be at our house for Thanksgiving," said Steve Schaeffel, adding that "it was highly unusual for them. To be late no, to skip yes. Highly unusual."

When Haile and Nick failed to respond to dozens of calls and texts, the family went out searching for them -- believing they may have had an accident following a snowstorm.

"It was snowing that day kind of heavy and the roads were slippery. So our initial thought was he went in the ditch, he must have been knocked out, or he'd be on his cell phone," Bonnie Schaeffel said.

Hours passed, and then a day passed. The families soon learned the teenagers' fate when chaplains showed up at their door.

"He's like, 'your son is dead.' And I just remembered -- I dropped to my knees," Kimberly Brady told Dateline.

"I remember I just went right outside and I sat in the snow. I just buried my head into my hands and I started to cry," Rachel Brady said.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, the family would learn more about how the teenagers died in the home of Byron Smith. And they'd face difficult questions about Haile and Nick's alleged drug abuse and criminal activity.

"Yes, what the kids did was wrong. Yes, they did break the law. But what this man did, was far worse than any law-breaking child did," Bonnie Schaeffel said.

"They made a terrible, terrible decision and it cost them their lives," added Steve.

And while some family members say they didn't see the warning signs, Bonnie Schaeffel did.

"You get kind of a sense when someone is possibly off-track, but what do you do?" she said.

"He was taken to church faithfully. He was in youth group for part of his growing up. He went to the Baptist Christian school. So we tried to funnel as much good into him as you can, right-thinking and morals," she added.

But Nick's grandparents also partially blame their home environment for their grandson's poor decisions.

"The one area that was a fall-down on our part, we did foster care for really difficult kids. And some of them were wonderful. Some were more difficult than others. We probably had 150 kids come through our home in 28 years. And Nick was in our home all the time, side by side with kids that had problems and were hurting and he frequently saw kids steal," Bonnie said.

Still, the family today argues it was Byron Smith -- not the teenage cousins -- on trial.

"He knew and yet he still made the choice to murder a child and a young woman who had been 18 for only one month and was still a high schooler," Bonnie said.

For seven days, the family showed up at the Morrison County Courthouse, hoping for justice while braving the most brutal details.

"The rage that I felt against this man. Just the brutality of what he did. It was unbearable," Steve said.

"The voice (will) haunt me and -- forever. And that's the last thing my son got to see and hear," Kimberly said about the chilling audio of the moments the cousins died and the hours following.

With the trial now behind them, the family is now speaking out in hopes of helping those who seem to be going in the wrong direction. They also urge people to contact authorities if they're interested in learning more about their legal rights to protect their property. And the family hopes, that with faith, they'll begin to heal.

"I have forgiven him [Byron Smith], because God has forgiven me," Bonnie said.

"I gave it all to God. I knew I couldn't handle it. So I really didn't. I was pretty peaceful," Kimberly said.

"I know he's with the Lord, and that's my comfort. That's what helps get me through," Steve added.

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