Through the video connection between the jail and the courtroom, Johnathan Bertsch couldn't see the 100-plus law enforcement officers in attendance at his initial court hearing Monday afternoon. But they could see him.
Bail was set at $2 million Monday for Bertsch, accused in separate shootings last week that killed one man and wounded three other people, including Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer.
Bertsch, 28, made his initial appearance via the video feed in Missoula County Justice Court. The hearing was moved to the largest courtroom in the Missoula County Courthouse to accommodate the dozens of law enforcement officers in attendance.
Palmer's fellow Highway Patrol troopers packed the front rows; officers from other jurisdictions filled the rows behind and alongside them.
Bertsch faces one count of deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide. He's being held in the Missoula County Detention Facility.
Bertsch said "Yes, sir," on Monday when asked if he'd like to be represented by a public defender. He allegedly was driving a white Cadillac Escalade when the shootings occurred late Thursday and shortly after midnight Friday.
The Missoula Public Defender's Office did not immediately return a call for comment.
Palmer was shot early Friday morning after locating the suspect vehicle reportedly involved in an earlier shooting that night. Authorities believe Bertsch followed three people from a bar Thursday evening and opened fire on their vehicle on Expressway near Airport Boulevard, killing Shelley Hays and wounding Hays' friend Casey Blanchard and his mother, Julie Blanchard. No motive for the shooting has been made clear through court documents.
An hour after the first shooting, Palmer located the white Cadillac Escalade believed to be involved on Highway 93 North. Shortly after finding the Escalade, Palmer alerted dispatch that he had come under fire. Law enforcement next to arrive on the scene found he had been shot while he was still buckled into his patrol car.
Lake County Sheriff Don Bell on Friday told the Missoulian his team, along with the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribal police, had begun securing the area from the north, including Bertsch's Arlee home, as the manhunt was underway. One detective who also serves Lake County as a sniper set up, while teams positioned themselves along Highway 93 hoping to capture the shooter.
On Monday, Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott said law enforcement had been unable to obtain a helicopter to search the area; Two Bear Air, a search and rescue outfit from Kalispell, was completing maintenance on a helicopter at that time and weather had kept another unit from traveling over from Spokane.
Missoula authorities deployed their tactical team and armored vehicle to the area, where they reportedly found Bertsch within a short distance from the area where Palmer had been shot. After law enforcement approached him from within an armored vehicle, Bertsch reportedly surrendered.
"Using electronic data, and other means, speaking with neighbors, we were able to determine that the suspect was still in the area and deployed one of our tactical elements behind armor up to contact him, take him into custody, and thankfully he surrendered and he was arrested without incident," McDermott told the Missoulian.
Along with Missoula law enforcement, Sheriff Bell and Lake County deputies, Ravalli County deputies and Sheriff Stephen Holton, Granite County Sheriff Scott Dunkerson and Lewis and Clark County deputies were all in attendance Monday. Chad Dever, Montana Highway Patrol captain for the Great Falls division, was one of those in court.
"Wade is an amazing family man, a friend and a trooper," he told reporters after the hearing. "It's just been really rough, I don't know how else to say it. All we can do is pray that he gets better. He's a fighter and he's fighting, as expected."
No further information was immediately available on Casey and Julie Blanchard, the two other people who survived Thursday's shooting. Casey Blanchard also was airlifted to Salt Lake City for treatment, where Dever said the families of both shooting victims have found relief in each other's company.
"They're all going through this together and just became a group of friends and family down there," he said, seeming to find some relief himself in the statement. "They really are, they're all hanging out together."
Earlier on Monday, Kiomi and Michael Burks — the owners of Garden of Read'n, Missoula's Christian bookstore — announced on social media the business, which is set to close, will liquidate its remaining accounts into four accounts for the four shooting victims. That amount is currently $32,199.45, guaranteeing each family at least $8,050, which will climb as they continue to sell their inventory. The remaining business expenses will be covered out of pocket by the owners, according to the post.
Meanwhile, as Palmer continued to receive care in Salt Lake City for his gunshot wounds on Monday, his wife issued a statement through the Department of Justice thankful for the support her family has received, particularly from law enforcement.
“I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Montana and Utah for all of their support, and to all of the caring people throughout the nation that have offered prayers and positive messages," Lindsey Palmer said in the release.
"To all of the brothers and sisters in blue, words cannot express the appreciation we have for all that you have done and for reaching out. We are holding strong and the continued aid is greatly appreciated.
"Knowing that our communities are coming together at our time of need is a great comfort. It gives us the ability to focus our attention on Wade and family which is the most important thing at this time. Hold the line. Stay strong.”