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Brom Murders-- 5 years later

or the past five years, Alfred Haugen has made trips to Rochester to put flowers at the grave of his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.

But he still doesn't understand why they died.

His grandson, David Brom, is now serving three consecutive life prison sentences for the Feb. 18, 1988, murders of his parents, Bernard and Paulette, brother Ricky and sister Diane.

The four family members were found dead in their rural Rochester home about 6 p.m. on Feb. 18, 1988. Each had been struck several times with an ax. David, 16 at the time, was arrested the next morning after spending the night in a culvert. His older brother, Joe, did not live at home and was spared. Relatives say Joe is now in college.

Defense attorney Terry Walters said the motive for the murders might never be known.

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``We know that David's perception of his life was so horrible that the only way out was to kill the family. To that extent, we know what the motive was. If we go beyond that and ask why did he feel that way, that motive we are never going to know,'' Walters said.

Walters denied rumors that Satanism and punk rock music played a role.

There was testimony about Bernard Brom being a strict disciplinarian and about both parents being very religious.

``There may have been some mild abuse, but not as severe as what we see on any given day at family court,'' Walters said. ``David exaggerated everything. His perception of the abuse was far worse, and that is probably as close as we are ever going to get to the final answer,'' Walters said.

Like other surviving family members, Haugen has visited David in prison and exchanges letters with him.

``It seems like it (the murder) is out of his mind,'' Haugen said. ``He is happy-go-lucky like a high school kid. He has never mentioned the murders.''

And like other family members, Haugen has forgiven David.

``You forgive the sinner, not the sin,'' he said quietly from his Richfield home.

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Kathryn Brom, David's paternal grandmother, said she, too, has been able to forgive and ``extend my hand to him in love.''

Both grandparents have no doubt the tragedy was the result of mental illness.

``I think he just snapped,'' Kathryn Brom said.

She said she also believes her grandson suffers from an inherited mental illness and points to a family history of such illness, which afflicted her grandmother, mother and even herself. She said her father committed suicide.

``You can see, when this happened to David, I could understand there was an inherited tendency. I felt sorry for David. The whole family knew David and knew that normally he wasn't that kind of boy,'' she said.

Both grandparents also said the parents were unfairly blamed for being abusive or unreasonably strict.

``Put the blame where it belongs, on a boy that was sick,'' Alfred Haugen said. ``It's too bad, because he was a good kid. He's still a good kid. But take the blame off the parents. They were not bad.''

Haugen said David's parents had rules and regulations, but that David followed them.

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``There was no excessive strictness that we could ever see,'' Haugen said. ``I don't think they were abusive parents or overly strict.''

And Haugen said there was never any inkling that David had any mental or emotional problems. ``I don't think I will ever understand what happened or why it happened,'' Haugen said. Kathryn Brom said a couple weeks before the murder, Paulette talked about having problems with David. ``But I didn't think they were that serious, and I didn't push her,'' she said from her Anoka home.

She said her son was strict with the children, but said he was also strict with himself. She recalls when Bernard was young, he would get up at 4 a.m. and study until going to school.

``He was a top student. He expected a lot from his children,'' Kathryn Brom said of her son.

Haugen said David has earned his high school diploma and works on computers and advertising at the prison.

``He is also active in going to church and reading his Bible,'' Kathryn Brom said.

She said visits don't include talks about the murders.

``We talk about what we did as a family together, the Thanksgivings we spent at my house, our visits in Rochester, when they would come here for summer picnics in the yard. We remember the good times when we are together,'' she said.

Kathryn Brom suffered another tragedy this past Christmas Eve when her other son, Henry, died while undergoing a heart transplant at the University of Minnesota.

``I feel that I have lost a lot, losing two boys,'' she said, ``But I have two girls and two sons-in-law that are dear to me. I have Joe and David yet to love.'' She also has five other grandchildren.

Haugen said he and his wife get a lot of support from Brom family friends in Rochester.

``I don't know what we would have done or what we would do to this day without the support of Rochester people, especially their friends,'' he said. ``They have kind of adopted us.'' Haugen said his daughter met Bernard while both were college students. He attended St. Johns University and she was a student at St. Benedicts. They both later transferred to the University of Minnesota. Shortly after their marriage, he took a job with IBM and the couple moved to Rochester. @et

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