24 April 2022
DULUTH — The Barry family loved Christmas and the twinkling glow of lights, choosing to buy their East Hillside home once they saw its neighborhood lit brightly for the season.
On Sunday, Sean and Riana Barry and their daughters, Shiway, 12, and Sadie, 9 — killed last week by a relative — were mourned by loved ones and neighbors at a vigil in front of the Barry home, Christmas lights gleaming in remembrance.
“The lights in the world seem a little dimmer without the joy Sean, Riana, Shiway and Sadie brought to their family and community,” said Jason Erickson, a family friend reading a statement on behalf of the Barrys’ survivors. “And nothing said here today fully encapsulates the magical family lost this week.
“May we move forward and be better people for knowing them. … Take time to enjoy the simple things … the extraordinary love a child developed for her Guinea pigs, the whimsy of another child inviting you to her birthday party just after meeting you and charming you into buying an extra box of Girl Scout Cookies.”
Homes throughout the quiet, close-knit neighborhood on a gray April night were lit with warm lights at the request of the family’s survivors, who invited residents citywide to decorate their homes in memory of the Barrys.
Crowds gathered Sunday to drop books into bins and bundles of flowers in front of the book-loving family’s Little Free Library in front of their house. Neighbors embraced and chatted in small groups. Off-duty police and firefighters stopped by.
Duluth City Council president Arik Forsman, a neighbor of the Barrys when they lived in another part of the city, was asked by their family to host the vigil.
“This tragedy has touched us deeply — whether you were one of the many close family members and friends of the Barrys, whether you knew them from their homeschool circles or Girl Scouts or just felt moved by the pictures of this smiling family we’ve seen these past few days,” Forsman said.
He said the Barrys were known for their adventurous spirit and welcoming nature, in a house full of “life and light.”
“There was always an open couch to crash on, and sometimes even a spot for someone in the VW bus or sauna,” Forsman said. “The Christmas lights you see lit here tonight are a symbol of their values of love, family and kindness. And that is what we remember and celebrate here tonight.”
Duluth police believe the Barrys were killed last week by 29-year-old Brandon Cole-Skogstad, who died by suicide after taking the lives of his uncle, aunt, cousins and family dog while they slept, police said. The man, having a mental health crisis, confessed his plan on social media after killing the family using a handgun, Police Chief Mike Tusken said, noting the murder-suicide is the worst killing in Duluth in three decades.
The family’s tidy, green house is close to the neighborhood school, Myers-Wilkins Elementary, and popular recreation fields. Sean Barry worked an oil field job in Alaska, neighbors said, while Riana Barry was a social worker who had transitioned to largely staying home and caring for her children.
Former co-workers of Riana said at the vigil she was “justice-minded” in her position with a Duluth housing provider, bending over backward to help those experiencing homelessness find housing. But a “fierce mama bear,” she left work at the start of the pandemic to homeschool and be with her children full time.
“And they were smart, fantastic children,” said a co-worker, who asked not to be named.
Sadie was a Girl Scout. Her mother posted a video of her on Facebook in February, wearing her sash and explaining the varieties of cookies on offer, sharing her opinions of each. Her favorite part about selling cookies, she said, was “meeting new people.”
Katie Nelson’s daughter was friends with Shiway, sharing her love of Guinea pigs and attending Lowell Elementary School with her before the pandemic sent kids home. Sean and Riana were “downright amazing” parents, Nelson said.
Riana “put her kids first,” she said, and “did so much with them. She just wanted them to be happy.”
Where to find help
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor.