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Suspect facing several charges after threatening UMN

The former Watson mayor was taken into custody and now faces three felony charges.
Image by Audrey Rauth
A UMPD vehicle at their headquarters on the University of Minnesota campus on Thursday, June 18, 2020.

The former mayor of Watson, Minnesota who threatened to open fire at the University of Minnesota in early January was charged on Jan. 17 with two counts of violence and illegal possession of ammunition.

Joseph Mark Rongstad, 41, was arrested late afternoon on Jan. 11 after a several-hour-long standoff, according to the court filing. He has a bail of $1 million with no conditions and will appear in court Feb. 8.

A search of Rongstad’s home left authorities to find several boxes of ammunition and unidentified pills among other items, but no gun. He said he never planned on coming to campus, despite his remarks, according to Rongstad’s case file.

Rongstad made his initial threats to “start killing kids” on the Twin Cities campus via a Facebook post on a landscaping business account. When he was questioned, Rongstad said he was the sole user of the account.

Upon questioning, Rongstatd said when he served as mayor he started getting into “government stuff, such as mind reading, MK Ultra-mind control and shadow government.”

Rongstad was elected mayor of Watson in 2012 and later committed in court in June 2016 for mental illness.

The University’s Public Safety Department asked all employees deemed non-essential to work from home after checking in with their supervisor on Jan. 11 as schools in the region followed lockdown procedures.

Individual schools within the University were invited to communicate with students directly at the discretion of the school’s Dean or leadership team, said University spokesperson Jake Ricker in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

According to a press release from the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the West Central SWAT Team and the FBI were involved in the investigation behind Rongstad’s actions.

BCA’s Director of Communications Howie Padilla said in an email that UMPD led the investigation.

According to Chippewa County court records, Rongstad was most recently convicted of a misdemeanor traffic offense in July 2023 and a felony charge for possession of drugs in June 2023.

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