Gone but not forgotten: Farmington parish continues to remember Bentler family 16 years after tragedy

Deacon Mike Linnenbrink, left, and Father Dan Dorau lead a prayer service in the Bentler Memorial Garden at St. Boniface Parish in Farmington earlier this month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

FARMINGTON — Parishioners, friends and family gathered at the Bentler Memorial Garden on St. Boniface Church property earlier this month to dedicate a new statue and to remember the lives of Michael, Sandra, Sheena, Shelby and Shayne Bentler.

“Years have passed now and almost every year something special is shared as a memorial or, like this year, the freshening up of the memorial area in the church yard,” said longtime parishioner Rita Wenke.

Active members of the parish, the Bentler family — Michael and his wife, Sandra, and their daughters Sheena, Shelby and Shayne — were killed Oct. 14, 2006, by Shawn Bentler, age 22. He is the son of Michael and Sandra and brother of their three daughters, who were students at Harmony High School at the time. Shawn Bentler is serving a life sentence in prison for his family’s murders.


“It was a very, very tough and traumatic time which was difficult for all and remains so for many, even after 16 years,” said Mary Witting, a family friend and fellow parishioner. She remembers Michael Bentler as an “all-around good guy” and Sandra Bentler as “one of those people who loved life and was a beautiful soul, in and out.” The three daughters were active in their high school and at church. Their deaths shocked the Farmington community and the parish.

The weekend of the murders, “people were so lost in their thoughts and needed to be with others,” recalled Wenke. St. Boniface invited the community to come and grieve together. “People of all faiths, young and old, came — and during the time we shared together, two of our parish members led the rosary and invited everyone to just sit and quietly think as we prayed.” Afterwards, people said “they felt so calm and blessed as they listened to us recite the rosary. Many had never heard it prayed before.”

Members of the St. Boniface Youth Group worked with now-Deacon Mike Linnenbrink, youth minister at the time, to design a memorial garden for the family. Volunteers from the church and surrounding communities helped the youth group plant two Pink Kousa Dogwood trees in memory of the parents and three flowering Crabapple trees in memory of their daughters. The five sides of the garden represent the five decades of the rosary, Wenke said.

Parishioners recently completed two upgrades to the garden. Parishioner Albert Kruse made the memorial garden more accessible as part of his Eagle Scout project. He extended an existing sidewalk on church grounds and connected it to the garden. After he completed the work, the parish replaced a deteriorating St. Francis statue in the garden. Brian Schmitz of Schmitz Funeral Home donated a marble base for it.

At the prayer service Oct. 4, Father Dan Dorau, pastor, rededicated the Bentler Memorial Garden and blessed the new St. Francis of Assisi statue. Deacon Linnenbrink spoke about the creation of the garden and its significance. Approximately 25 people attended the rededication ceremony, with 10 relatives of the Bentler family present. “The evening was beautiful, and many people stayed in the garden after the ceremony,” Wenke said.

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