KEOSAUQUA, Iowa – A 22-year-old car salesman charged with murdering five members of his family appeared briefly Tuesday in a courtroom packed with relatives and neighbors.
Some relatives wept and embraced each other as Shawn Bentler walked in, shackled at the ankles and wrists. Others simply stared at him, occasionally shaking their heads in disbelief.
Bentler's only comment during the hearing was to affirm his identity. He avoided eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.
District Judge Michael Mullins maintained Bentler's bond at $2.5 million. He also appointed public defender David Sallen as his attorney as Bentler faces five counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths Saturday of his parents and three teenage sisters at their home in Bonaparte.
After the hearing, several relatives met with officials from an eastern Iowa survivors program. They have said little to reporters about the family and the tragedy that has unnerved the rural community.
"This is an incredibly difficult time for them. It has rocked the whole state," said Emily Blomme, director of the Survivor's Program, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit group that helps families deal with the legal system.
Sixty miles away in the Illinois river town of Quincy, where Shawn Bentler lives, his former employers described him as polite and well-spoken, though not always reliable. He told one former supervisor that he wanted to make it on his own and separate himself from his affluent family back in Iowa.
"I can't point to one thing that was unusual about him," said Troy McNay, sales manager at Shottenkirk Chevrolet in Quincy, where Bentler worked as a salesman from March until August. "That's what's so disturbing. There's not one thing I could point to and say, 'that dude was an odd duck."'
Investigators have not said what might have led to the attack on the family.
Saturday morning, Bentler's youngest sister called 911 from the family's Bonaparte home, frantic as she told dispatchers her brother was "going to do something." The call ended with a scream of "Shawn, no!" and gunshots.
Bentler was arrested near his Quincy home a few hours later.
His former supervisors in Quincy said he struggled with tardiness and often missed work, but he had a good rapport with customers. He was fired in August from his job at Shottenkirk Chevrolet for failing to meet the dealership's minimum sales quota.
He got another job in September at Neal Coleman Auto Sales but quit after three weeks, telling his boss that his father had died of a heart attack. Sales manager Jack Bessling said he discovered the lie after calling the family's lumber company to express condolences.
"Nobody really got a chance to know him," Bessling said. "He said all the right things when we talked to him. He said he had two kids and had to make money."
Bentler's father, Michael Bentler, 53, was among the victims found shot to death in their home overlooking the Des Moines River. Sandra Bentler, 47; and their daughters Sheena, 17; Shelby, 15; and Shayne, 14, were also killed.
Shottenkirk General Manager Rich Poe said Bentler was "sharp" and had previously worked for his father's Bonaparte lumber company.
"He said he wanted to make it on his own," Poe said. "He wanted to separate himself from [his family]. He was very well-dressed, very respectful, courteous. You could tell he was from a good family."
It was unclear how long Bentler had lived in Quincy.
Nobody was home Monday at the small, white one-story house that Bentler shared with roommates. A half-dozen trash bags sat in the back yard, and a black Chevrolet Lumina with Iowa license plates was parked near the garage.
Across the street, Tony Ballard recalled how a police officer sat in his driveway most of Saturday, watching Bentler's house. "That was a little alarming," he said.
"I see young people over there all the time. I haven't had any trouble out of them," Ballard said. "They're pretty quiet."
A funeral for the family was planned for Thursday at Harmony High School, about 10 miles south of Bonaparte, according to Schmitz-Lynk Funeral Home.