Carsten and Sally Ellison hope to prevent the kind of abuse that they believe led to their son's death. Theparents of 22-year-old James Ellison, who was shot to death at a Hudsonmortuary Feb. 5, 2002, have filed a wrongful death suit against theCatholic Diocese of Superior.
The complaint alleges that Ellison was killed by Father Ryan Erickson, probably because he saw Erickson shoot hissupervisor, mortician Dan O'Connell. It also claims that the SuperiorDiocese knew about an alleged sexual assault committed by Erickson andnever disclosed the information.
In the civil lawsuit,filed Tuesday, the Ellisons of Barron, Wis., are asking for anunspecified amount of damages for medical expenses, funeral costs andloss of society and companionship. Wisconsin lawsuits don't generallyask for a specific dollar amount.
Attorneys for theSuperior Diocese had not yet received the summons Tuesday night,according to Rev. Philip Heslin, spokesman for the Diocese. "We'reawaiting their [lawyers] reaction and analysis of whatever's going tobe," he said.
The suit surmises that Ellison, an internat the O'Connell Family Funeral Home, was shot because he "eitherwitnessed Dan O'Connell being shot, heard the gunshots or witnessed theimmediate aftermath of the shooting."
The suit claimsErickson fired a first shot at Ellison, roughly at head level. Whenthat shot missed, according to the complaint, Erickson fired a second,lethal shot.
In October 2005, St. Croix County JudgeEric Lundell ruled there was probable cause to believe Erickson killedO'Connell and Ellison and that the murders were premeditated.
Erickson hanged himself outside his residence in Hurley in December 2004, days after being questioned by police and FBI agents.
Thecomplaint says O'Connell and Erickson argued Feb. 1, 2002, afterO'Connell learned Erickson had been accused of abusing children.
Thesuit alleges negligent infliction of distress, saying that Ellison musthave "suffered severe emotional distress," knowing he would likely die.
The suit also charges Erickson's church supervisors withwrongful death, saying they had enough evidence to know that Erickson"was unfit for the priesthood and that, once a priest, he molestedchildren, abused alcohol, was violent and abusive and had a propensityto use firearms."
"If Bishop (Rafael) Fliss had beenmore concerned about the souls of the young people instead of trying tocreate or protect the brotherhood, the Ellisons would not be in thedeep sorrow that they are," said Bob Schwiderski, director ofMinnesota's Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It'scomplete mismanagement & and just another example of the failuresof that bishop."
The Ellisons filed the complaint after hearing details of the crime from investigators.
"We felt that this was the only thing to do to make somebody accountable for James' and Dan's deaths," Sally Ellison said.
"Itdidn't have to happen. If people had been doing their job, and hadthings in place within the church to screen out people like this fromgetting into those positions & Dan and James would not be dead."
TheEllisons plan to give any money awarded to the James Ellison Foundationfor the Protection of Children, a nonprofit they established that willoffer protection and counseling to abuse victims.
SallyEllison said the couple is trying to raise awareness of the abuseproblem within the Catholic Church, and wouldn't want any settlementmoney for the family, saying it would feel like "blood money" "payingyou off for what they did to your son," she said. "But nobody's takingresponsibility & this is something we can do as his parents."
Ericksonwas serving St. Patrick Church in Hudson when O'Connell and Ellisonwere murdered. He was later assigned to St. Mary of the Seven DolorsParish in Hurley.
The lawsuit was filed by St. Paul attorneys Richard Jasperson and Jeffrey R. Anderson.
CarstenEllison said his family is uncomfortable filing a lawsuit, but felt itwas necessary. "I just felt the need to do something in the memory ofmy son," he said. "I felt James deserved that."
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