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'She couldn't do life without Chris': Widow of murdered Mahnomen County deputy dies at age 33

Emily and Chris Dewey enjoy time together in 2008. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Emily Dewey tears up while being interviewed Feb. 25, 2009. Special to The Forum2 / 2

The tragedies that contributed to Emily Dewey's death last month started long ago, according to her sister, Hannah Rentmeester.

Emily, who was about 18 months older than Hannah, met Chris Dewey when the couple was in their early teens, and they immediately connected.

"He completed her," she said. "He kept her grounded, and without him, life fell apart for her."

The couple was married for six years when Chris Dewey, a deputy with the Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office, was shot in the head and stomach on Feb. 18, 2009, while investigating a report of a drunken driver in the city of Mahnomen.

A long road to recovery began, but several rounds of complications eventually overcame Chris Dewey, who died Aug. 9, 2010, at the age of 27. Thomas Fairbanks was sentenced to life in prison for the murder.

But Rentmeester said her sister's loss was too great of a tragedy to overcome, and she said Emily Dewey became "collateral damage" — another victim from the shooting nearly a decade before.

"They truly were meant for each other and perfect for one another," Rentmeester said. "She couldn't do life without Chris."

Emily Dewey died Jan. 31 in Denver at the age of 33.

Speaking out

After the 2009 Mahnomen shooting, which Rentmeester said Emily Dewey heard reported over the police scanner at home, her sister moved her out of the house. Dewey never returned to Mahnomen, according to Rentmeester, haunted by the "horrible, terrible memories" from that morning.

Dewey spent about six years in the Madison, Wis., area, where Rentmeester and her family live.

During that time, she said Dewey struggled with a growing reliance on alcohol. Rentmeester brought her older sister to treatment multiple times, trying her best to get Dewey sober. She would stay sober for a while, she said, but eventually relapse.

Things got worse a couple of years ago as the sisters lost both their mother and father within six months of each other. Rentmeester said the deaths were "the last straw" for Dewey, who was already in a spiral before that.

More recently, Dewey lived in Minnesota, and she moved to Denver about a year and a half ago.

Dewey was aware that her health was declining, yet Rentmeester said she continued to drink. She said her sister wasn't blameless, but she believes her death was strongly connected to what happened to Chris Dewey.

"When she was sober, she was my best friend, and she was the best friend somebody could ever have," she said. "But when she was lost in alcohol, they're different people."

That's why Rentmeester said she was willing to talk about her sister — a woman she characterized as exceptionally smart, sarcastic and fun — as well as Dewey's unexpected and unwanted status as the widow of a law enforcement officer.

People tried to help Dewey, her sister said, and Dewey was connected to groups for survivors of police loss. Still, Rentmeester said it was a lonely experience for her sister, especially after the dust settled and calls and interactions with supporters began to wane as the weeks, months and years passed following Chris Dewey's death.

Rentmeester said she wants people to know about the funny, loving person who was her best friend. She also wants them to hear about Dewey's struggles with alcohol that ultimately took her life, years after everything changed with the shooting of her husband.

"If someone else can be saved out of me talking and getting this story out, that would be great, because there's so much collateral damage that happens when a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty," she said.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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