An accused Twin Cities heroin dealer was charged Friday with yet another murder — her fifth — in connection with the drug overdose deaths of five Minnesota men.
The latest charge links Beverly Burrell, 30, of Maplewood, to the heroin overdose death of Dustin Peltier, 31, of St. Cloud, a Marine veteran who suffered from PTSD and desperately wanted to overcome a drug addiction.
Peltier’s mother said Friday that she should be relieved that Burrell has been charged in her son’s death. “This is what we prayed for — that we would find the person who was responsible for his death,” said Carla Peltier of Belcourt, N.D. “But honestly, it’s so hard to feel anything.
“My son is gone,” she said, her words overwhelmed by the crack of grief in her voice. “[Burrell] took the hope of Dustin ever getting better.”
Over the past year, the murder charges against Burrell, known on the streets as “Ice,” have mounted as investigators have tied her to additional drug overdose deaths. By July, she had been charged with three counts of third-degree murder and several drug-related counts in connection with the deaths of Luke Ronnei, 20, of Chanhassen; Max Tillitt, 21, of Eden Prairie, and Nick Petrick, 29, of New Prague. In October, she was charged with a fourth murder in connection with the April 3 overdose death of a man at a Columbia Heights sober house.
On Friday, she was charged in Sherburne County with a fifth murder. Investigators used phone and Google search records to tie Burrell to Peltier’s death in St. Cloud.
“This Ice this my New number k let me know u got it and lock it in,” read one text sent to Peltier’s phone months before he died, according to the charges.
On April 2, Peltier texted Burrell, asking her to come see him in St. Cloud, according to the criminal complaint. Internet search and phone records put Burrell in the vicinity of Peltier’s apartment about 9:30 p.m. About the same time, Peltier texted a friend and said “his girl just left.”
Thirty minutes later, St. Cloud police found Peltier dead in his apartment. An autopsy showed he had toxic levels of fentanyl in his body. The substance is sometimes added to heroin.
“These are people who are struggling with a chronic disease that they battle every day,” said Colleen Ronnei, who has doggedly pushed investigators and prosecutors for justice since her son, Luke, died in January from a drug overdose. Luke Ronnei began self-medicating with drugs to alleviate depression and anxiety and then fought to overcome addiction, she said.
“All five of these men were working on recovery,” Colleen Ronnei said. “[Burrell] was the pusher.”
Ronnie and Peltier said they’re relieved that Burrell is in jail and off the streets.
But the sad truth is that another drug dealer probably has already taken her place, Ronnei said. “It’s a never-ending battle — at least it feels that way some days,” she said.
The consolation is that the five separate murder charges are the first steps in seeking justice for each man’s death, Ronnei said. “But it doesn’t bring our kids back.”
The 3:20 a.m. call from police about her son’s death is etched in Carla Peltier’s memory. “They couldn’t revive him,” she said.
Just four hours earlier, his last words to her had been: “I love you. I’ll talk to you later.”
He planned to go back into treatment again for the addiction that overtook him after he began self-medicating to escape the nightmares he suffered after two tours in Iraq, Carla Peltier said.
“He would go to treatment, do well, and then he would fall back again,” she said. “He would come home for the holidays and he would seclude himself. Slowly we would lose him again.
“He would moan and cry in his sleep,” she said. “He was suffering in his dreams, and you didn’t know whether to wake him.”
But he wanted to overcome the misery and the addiction, his mother said. “I want to have a family,” he told her. “I want to do all the normal things other people do.”
But fighting the addiction could be overwhelming and he would get tired, she said. “I wish it could be different,” he would tell her. “But you don’t understand. It’s not as easy as you think.”
“I would say, ‘You have to try harder, baby. You have to be stronger. You have to fight this,’ ” Carla Peltier recalled.
Telling her son’s story to strangers is difficult because he was a private man who kept his struggles to himself, she said.
“But people need to know the reason he was taking drugs and the struggle behind it,” she said. “If he could have chosen something else, he would have.”
Peltier wrestles with her grief every day.
“There’s a hole in my heart for Dustin, and only Dustin can fill it,” she said. “But he’s gone, and I don’t know what else I can put in there except loneliness and grief.”
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788