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Perham sophomore Tabitha Belmonte, pictured with the Perham Speech Team, was killed in Monday night's shooting in Amor, Minn. Focus File photo.

Shooting officially ruled murder-suicide

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Perham students and teachers are struggling to deal with the death of a 16-year-old female sophomore who died in a murder-suicide Monday evening.

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Tabitha Lee Belmonte was found dead Monday evening after Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office responded to a 911 call that two juveniles had been shot at a home located at 30811 Twin Lake Road near Amor. 17-year-old Dylan Cox, found injured at the scene, was airlifted to Sanford Hospital in Fargo, where he died early Tuesday afternoon, hospital spokeswoman Andrea Voorhees said.

In a news release issued on Wednesday, the sheriff's office said that Belmonte died of multiple gunshot wounds. Cox, the shooter, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The location has been identified as the home of Cox's parents. The sheriff's office said that both Cox and Belmonte resided at the home.

Cox and Belmonte had a daughter together. The girl, Emma Lee Cox, was born in August of 2010 at the Perham Memorial Hospital.

Sheriff Brian Schlueter told The Fargo Forum that Cox's parents, Cathy and Darrin, in addition to Emma Cox, were all home at the time of the shooting. Cathy and Darrin called 911 to report the shooting, according to The Forum.

Schlueter told The Forum the investigation remains open and that there are "still quite a few loose ends to tie up."

Perham school officials learned of the incident Tuesday morning, prompting a school lock-down to allow students a secure environment to learn and grieve.

A meeting was held before school to inform teachers and give them time to deal with the tragedy.

"They needed time to prepare, as well, so they could deal with students," said Perham Superintendent Tamara Uselman.

A threatening voicemail discovered on the middle school answering machine late Tuesday morning prompted the district to continue its lockdown, this time to protect students' safety.

An 18-year-old Washington man was arrested Tuesday afternoon in connection with the threats, according to the Perham Police Department. The man faces charges in Washington state of felony telephone harassment.

Members of the district's crisis team, comprised of mental health and spiritual professionals, were on hand for students coping with the death in what Uselman described as an "incredibly somber" environment. Students having a tough time were allowed to leave campus.

"It's been a crazy time," she said.

Belmonte's death comes on the heels of the medical miracle of Perham student Zach Gabbard, who remains in hospital care after collapsing during a January basketball game.

"I think it's just been a roller coaster of emotions," Uselman said.

A send-off for that same basketball team, which departed March 22 for the 2a state basketball tournament, was pushed aside in the midst of the crisis.

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