UPDATE 2p.m. WORDEN — Authorities have identified the victim of an apparent homicide in Worden early Friday morning as Erica Yurian, 22, and the man shot by a sheriff’s deputy as Thomas Hilger, 49.
Both died of gunshot wounds, Sheriff Mike Linder said Saturday. The investigation into the incident is ongoing. According to people who knew the victims, Hilger was the owner of the 406 Bar and Yurian was his girlfriend.
Two deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave, pending an inquest into the incident, which is standard operating procedure. The deputies are Martin Stuart, who has been with the Sheriff's Office just over a year, and Tony Watson, who has been with the Sheriff's Office for more than eight years, Linder told the Billings Gazette.
INITIAL REPORT: One of the most common questions on Worden’s Main Street on Friday was, “What happened last night?”
Some residents speculated about the apparent homicide and officer-involved shooting behind the 406 Bar in hushed tones; others refused to discuss it.
As conversations percolated with varying theories, a common theme emerged in this community of about 600 residents: This is a community on edge.
“It’s just shocking,” said Shirley Reiter, 76, manager of the Mini Merc on Main Street. “I didn’t want to believe it. It’s something you don’t want to think happens in a tight-knit community like Worden.”
Reiter has lived in the community for more than 50 years and can't recall another homicide in town.
While investigating a report of suspicious activity in the alley behind the 406 Bar at 2430 Main St. in Worden, deputies questioned a man in a car about 4 a.m. who pulled a gun, said Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder.
The man was shot by deputies and then transported to St. Vincent Healthcare where he later died. During an investigation of that shooting, investigators found the body of an apparent homicide victim in a vehicle.
By early Friday afternoon, a team of at least six detectives, a crime-scene van and the Highway Patrol remained on the scene as investigators widened the perimeter of the crime scene with yellow tape behind the 406 Bar. The bar was closed for business as a detective in an unmarked car guarded the crime scene.
Kayla Fredericks, a 23-year-old stay-at-home mom, said she was friends with both the dead person and the man who was shot.
“It’s just bizarre,” Fredericks said. “This is a really great community with great people who care about each other. I would hate to have it marred by one incident.”
Diana Jansma, 62, has lived in Worden nine years and resides just two blocks from where the homicide occurred.
“I am scared,” Jansma said. “Why are people so violent they need to shoot each other? It’s scary when people get so angry. I’m somewhat confused as to why it happened.”
Sarah Fowler moved to Worden about five years ago after living in major metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York and Miami. She fell in love with the solitude and wide open spaces that define Montana. Friday’s incident unnerved her.
“It makes me feel like no place is really safe,” she said. “It’s going to make me more aware of my surroundings.”
Sarah Cooper, 35, sat under a shade tree just outside the perimeter of the crime scene as detectives scoured the area. She was waiting to walk her children home from school. They would normally walk home through the crime scene area.
“It’s very disturbing,” said Cooper who was born and raised in Worden. “It’s kind of weird in a small town.
Linder said Friday that the man shot by deputies was transported from the scene near the bar by an ambulance to the Pryor Creek Bar parking lot, where he was transferred to a St. Vincent Healthcare Help Flight helicopter shortly after 5 a.m. and flown to a Billings hospital.
Investigators are working with the county attorney's office and have applied for and are awaiting search warrants, Linder said.
No one else was injured during the altercation, Linder said.