MANDAN, N.D. (AP) — Camaraderie was so important for the “coffee club” at RJR Maintenance and Management that the four unofficial members often arrived at work early just to enjoy one another’s company, mugs in hand, before other employees arrived and the workday began.
But that friendly calm was shattered around 7:30 a.m. on April 1, when a person armed with a gun and a knife entered the company’s office building in Mandan, North Dakota, through the one unlocked door. Within 13 minutes, those four friends became the victims of a horrific deadly attack.
Jackie Fakler’s memories of arriving at the building that morning are bleak. She had planned to drive to work with her husband, Robert — they co-owned the business — but a last-minute decision sent him on ahead.
“I knew Robert was in there. I wasn’t sure what happened,” Fakler said. “I knew they were doing CPR on him. I did not know about the other three victims at the time. And then it was panic, doing a head count with all the employees — who was there, and who wasn’t.”
Fakler said at first she thought her husband had suffered cardiac arrest.
“But when I saw blood on the floor, I knew it wasn’t a heart attack,” she said.
According to a police affidavit, the intruder attacked the four friends one by one. Robert Fakler was stabbed and cut multiple times. Adam Fuehrer, Bill Cobb and his wife, Lois, were all stabbed and shot. The attacker sliced Lois Cobb’s neck.
Chad Isaak , a Washburn chiropractor who lived on property managed by RJR, has been charged with four counts of murder, but police haven’t identified a motive. Those close to the victims say they have no idea what prompted the assault.
Office manager Deanna Finnie tagged the four the coffee club, claiming they could get through an entire pot before anyone else even arrived at work. Fakler said that collective defined the close-knit community at RJR.
“You don’t get that with most companies,” Fakler said. “They came in just to spend time with each other before the work day.”
The Cobbs and Faklers were friends who sometimes vacationed together. Fuehrer would help out at the Faklers’ hobby farm, and in return would get a butchered pig every year. Company holiday parties typically have 100% turnout, and “this is like home to a lot of people,” marketing executive Ben Pace said.
Confusion reigned as other employees showed up for the start of the workweek not long after the attack. Police blocked off the road leading to the RJR building in the busy Mandan business district known as The Strip. Surviving colleagues were still being questioned by law enforcement when news media started to release details about the killings, Pace said.
The company closed for two days.
“This is not something you just bounce back from,” Fakler said. “My head was spinning a lot. We got everybody together that Tuesday after, and I asked the employees if they wanted to continue on, and they all said yes.”
Two weeks later, idle chatter fills the reception area, phones ring regularly, and renters file in and out doing business at the front desk. Mementos of Robert Fakler’s hobbies adorn the walls of the conference room — a picture of racing legend Dale Earnhardt, memorabilia of the local minor league baseball and hockey teams.
“It feels like it’s been a lifetime and a blink all in the same time,” Pace said.
Security has been heightened, but it’s not apparent. People who come in aren’t treated any differently than before.
“I can’t judge everybody who walks through my front door by one individual,” Fakler said. “And I think we’ve got a pretty good crew that understands that, too.”
Support from the community has helped, including a deluge of cards, well-wishes and fundraising efforts. For Jackie, someone mailed a gift box to the office that contained a wrist band she treasures. It is adorned with the first initials of the four victims, along with charms associated with each.
“For somebody to just anonymously send it to me, it was like, it’s just amazing how people are,” Fakler said.
That support is helping the business move forward, along with the already tight bonds among workers.
“This incident didn’t make us a family, an RJR family. We were that before any of this happened,” Finnie said.
But they acknowledge that RJR won’t be the same without the “coffee club.”
“They could be jokesters over some of the dumbest things,” Fakler said, laughing and crying at the same time.
“It would be nice to hear the laughter in the back when they’d start up. I think that’s the one thing, I don’t know if that will ever come back.”
Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake