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Murder suspect’s girlfriend describes night of shooting

By   /   July 12, 2011  /   13 Comments

Myra Flemmer and her 19-year old autistic son were home last Friday evening when her boyfriend of almost a year, Steven Bannister, came over to eat dinner and bet on horse races online.

Three hours and a bottle of vodka later, Bannister was being rushed to the hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds and a Bismarck police officer had been mortally wounded in the street.

(Photo by Michelle Farnsworth) Myra Flemmer posted a handwritten note on her door to keep away media and onlookers after her boyfriend was charged with murder in the shooting death of a Bismarck police officer.

In an exclusive interview with the Great Plains Examiner, Flemmer recounted the events of the night that Sgt. Steve Kenner, 56, a 32-year veteran of the Bismarck Police Department, was shot and killed.

“I feel that this cop was called to protect me, and he was doing his job,” Flemmer said Tuesday afternoon. “I feel like it should’ve been me.”

Flemmer said everything seemed normal at first on Friday night as Bannister gambled and drank from a 1.75 liter bottle of Burnett’s vodka. But she said the calm of the evening was broken when Bannister became irritated by a visitor and a series of phone calls and began calling her names. He later put a knife to her neck when he thought she was on the phone with police.

It wasn’t the first time the 52-year-old Bannister had shown a violent streak, Flemmer said.  

“I’d seen red flags of abuse, but did not know he would be capable of murdering anybody,” she said.

Flemmer described Bannister as a controlling person who had told her she wasn’t supposed to have friends. He didn’t trust her friends or many other people, she said.

“He held me hostage one night,” she said. “He told me if I called the police that he had grenades to blow up the whole block.”

At the time, Flemmer didn’t believe Bannister had grenades. But after what she saw and heard last Friday, she’s not so sure.

The evening became tense when one of Flemmer’s friends, a woman, stopped by unannounced for a visit, Flemmer said. Bannister became immediately irritated with the intrusion into his evening and began calling Flemmer a whore, she said.

Flemmer repeatedly asked him not to call her names like that in front of her son. Bannister continued berating her, though he eventually settled back into his routine of online gambling, she said.

A little while later, when Flemmer received a call from another one of her sons, Bannister’s mood soured again, she said.

“He went out to the kitchen and grabbed a knife out of the cupboard. Then he grabbed me by the neck and held the knife to my neck,” Flemmer said, adding that Bannister threatened to slice her throat if she called the police.

Flemmer said Bannister apparently thought she was on the phone with the police, but instead she was speaking with her son.

“He then pulled it (the knife) from my neck and put it to my stomach,” she said.

Flemmer said she begged Bannister to put down the knife. At that point, she said, he grabbed the phone from her and hung it up. He went back to the computer until Flemmer’s phone rang again; this time, it was Flemmer’s other son calling. 

“I told him (Bannister), you better let me answer that or they’re gonna’ know something is wrong,” she said.

When Flemmer answered the phone call from her son, Bannister was still holding the knife against her.

“He grabbed up the back of my hair and put the knife to the back of my neck,” she said.

Bannister kneeled down by her and put the knife under his knee. Flemmer immediately scrambled to the other side of the table. Bannister then got up from his kneeling position to sit in the chair that she previously occupied. The whole time, Flemmer said, she was begging Bannister to put the knife away.

Flemmer’s son, upon hearing her mother begging for Bannister to put the knife down, immediately called police. Flemmer said she told Bannister that there was going to be trouble and he had better leave.

Flemmer said Bannister placed the knife on the small computer table next to the front door and told her, “You better lock the door. I’m leaving.”

Flemmer complied. 

“I went outside and didn’t see him or that his white van had moved,” said Flemmer.

Flemmer’s son, who was still on the phone, told her to go back inside the house. When she went back inside, the knife was missing from the computer table where Bannister had placed it. (Editor’s note: Flemmer said the knife was found Saturday behind the computer speakers and turned over to Bismarck Police Department.)

When police officers responded, one officer stood by the front door, while two additional officers searched the rest of her trailer home in case Bannister was hiding in another room, Flemmer said. During that time, Kenner and another officer remained outside, looking for Bannister.

One officer asked Flemmer to describe Bannister’s vehicle. Flemmer told him the white van that was parked across the street.

“Just as I said that we heard, boom-boom-boom,” Flemmer said. “It sounded like fireworks. We’ve been having fireworks all week. Didn’t sound like gun shots.”

The officers immediately ran outside in response to the shots fired across the street.

“I looked out my kitchen window and saw an officer crouched down,” Flemmer said. “From what I understood, Officer Kenner walked up to the side window of the van and Bannister shot him.”

Bannister was charged Monday with Class AA felony murder. Bannister, too, was shot during the short gunfight near the intersection of 25th Street and Broadway. As of Tuesday, he was receiving treatment for his injuries in the intensive care unit at St. Alexius Medical Center, where he was under guard by Bismarck police officers.

Since the shootout, Flemmer said she has been bombarded by media and unfriendly individuals who drive through the neighborhood and yell things at her. Although she was the victim of abuse and called for help, the tide seems to be turning against her and her autistic son, she said.

“I don’t think anybody deserved to lose their life,” Flemmer said with her head hung low.

Due to Kenner’s shooting, Flemmer has received an eviction notice and must move out of her home by Aug. 15. She had worked with Bannister restoring floors, and all of her tools and equipment to do her job were in his van when it was confiscated. She has no way to work, has no money and now must find a place to live.

“Condolences to the family of Officer Kenner, the entire police department and even to my landlord,” she said. “I know this is stressful on him to have all of this media attention.”

Kenner was the first Bismarck police officer to be killed in the line of duty. He was the 50th North Dakota law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty since 1771, according to the website, Officer Down Memorial Page.

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13 Comments

  1. la says:

    Myra, this is not your fault.

  2. Dani says:

    I wish the residents of Bismarck would not turn their backs on a victim of domestic abuse, a mother of an autistic child, and a citizen with limited resources. It is awful that a police officer died in the line of duty, but this woman and her sons’ were all at risk as well and should not be treated like they are personally responsible for this sad situation.

  3. Exclusive? says:

    How can you and KFYR both have “exclusive” interviews on the same day?

  4. Jessica says:

    What a sad situation! I feel so sad for the officer’s family and this woman you interviewed. You did a really good job telling this story and getting all the information out.

  5. Erik Hagen says:

    Might want to check the dates there, “Exclusive?”. KFYR posted their “exclusive interview” earlier today, whereas the Examiner story was up yesterday. But still, totally fair question. I assume you already asked KFYR the same thing?

  6. Michelle Farnsworth says:

    KFYR aired their report for the first time at 5:00 and 6:00 pm on July 12, 2011. The Examiner story was published on-line later that evening, closer to 9:00 pm.
    This is exclusive to the Examiner and to print media in our community. I am proud to know Myra and to tell her story.

    Thank you for your inquiry.

  7. Cindyloo says:

    It’s really too bad that Myra didn’t utilize the resources available from the Abused women’s shelter in town. She could have tried for a restraining order and yes I know, they don’t keep the abuser away. It’s too bad she didn’t kick his rear to the curb, get the womens shelter to help her in finding a new place to live. In her ‘exclusive’ interview with KFYR, she talked about how he treated her son so well, but not her. Huge red flag. He needs to treat both of you well. And drinking all that vodka in 3 hours? Another red flag. The resources were there for her; it’s too bad that she didn’t take advantage of them. It would be nice to end all these cycles of domestic abuse.

  8. Kris Kitko says:

    Thanks for this interview. Clearly, the public needs to be more educated regarding domestic violence. People who shout things at her are also acting abusively. Victims/survivors of domestic violence are often criticized at every move–why didn’t she move out, why didn’t she call the police, why DID she call the police, why didn’t she figure out this or that…on and on. If any members of our community cannot support her, they should leave her alone. Otherwise the rest of us are pulling for you, Myra, and we know you can have a good life from this point forward.

  9. Dani says:

    It is extremely easy to say she should have sought help from shelters, etc…It is extremely easy to judge from our perspective outside the fishbowl. Abuse services are chronically understaffed and underfunded and it isn’t always that easy to get the help you need. Also, abuse often starts gradually so that the victim second guesses her/himself and questions their own thoughts and actions wondering if they are justified etc….Men and women both can be victims of abuse as well as the wealthy and the poor and the educated and uneducated. Victims often look for clues if they are crazy or not or overreacting or not. They ask themselves “is this really happening to me?” “Is this somehow my fault?” etc… Please don’t tell victims they just should have gone to the shelter. It isn’t always that easy. She has an autistic son and depended on her abuser for her income/employment. That is never an easy situation for anyone to be in and she should not have her actions second guessed and judged after the fact.

  10. maschall says:

    Praying for you and your children that things will get better

  11. Jo says:

    This is not the first violent relationship Myra has been in. Unfortunately this ended tragically for the officer. From the past experiences she knew who she should contact and the issues with those that drink alot but she also drank vodka alot and did not seem to care of consequences. I hope for her childrens sake she now sees how badly this can end and changes her future. I knew her for over 15 years and have stayed away for awhile because of the prior relationships she had and would not listen to the problems with these men.

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