EXCLUSIVE: Partner of fallen MN deputy explains how routine call turned deadly in seconds 

Deputy Brody Merrill said he had his doubts about returning to the field after watching his partner, Deputy Josh Owen, get killed. But ultimately he concluded that “Josh wouldn’t want me to quit.”  

Deputy Brody Merrill, left, pictured with Deputy Josh Owen, who was killed in the line of duty. (Photo provided to Alpha News) 

Deputy Brody Merrill of the Pope County Sheriff’s Office is speaking out for the first time about the tragic night that took his partner and friend’s life.

Deputy Merrill joined Liz Collin Reports after being named the Police Officer First Responder of the Year by the Minnesota 100 Club. He was recognized for his heroic actions when a suspect opened fire on Deputy Merrill and two other officers on April 15. Deputy Merrill was wounded, but he rendered first aid to his partner, Deputy Josh Owen, who died from his injuries.

It was Owen’s 44th birthday. Deputy Owen left behind a wife and young son.

Merrill opened up about going back to the job and his ongoing commitment to keeping his community safe.

Merrill was on the job with Pope County for four years and partners with Deputy Owen for three of those years on the night it all unfolded.

“It was a Saturday night. We’d worked Friday night together. It was a routine, pretty low-key night on Friday night and I checked on at 5 p.m. Josh was the six o’clock car. He checked on with me or he relieved the other day car and checked on with me. Josh had an evening routine. When he came to work, it was always check on, come in the office, have a cup of coffee, talk with the guys. Then, it was always home for lunch with Shannon and Rylan. Shortly after he had left, I was in the deputies’ room and got the call. It was a third-party call of a domestic, basically somebody else called it in, that they believed a domestic was occurring in Cyrus and I began heading that way,” Deputy Merrill recalled.

Deputy Merrill joined Liz Collin Reports after being named the Police Officer First Responder of the Year by the Minnesota 100 Club. (Photo provided to Alpha News)

“Starbuck’s officer, Alex Olson, acknowledged the call for service and he began heading to Cyrus as well. He was a couple of minutes ahead of me. I was running lights and sirens and then Josh was a couple of minutes behind me … and it’s a 20-mile drive from Glenwood,” he added.

Merrill said Officer Olson coded the call to mean that everything was basically fine, so Merrill cut his lights and sirens and walked into the apartment in Cyrus.

“I saw Alex was in there talking with both of them, trying to figure out what’s going on. Then, I went in and asked the female party to come with me, and I went and interviewed her down the hallway, just in the utility room, and just got the basic facts, tried to figure out what happened, and ultimately determined that there was a crime that was committed, an arrestable offense. So, I told her we’re going to take him into custody. At this point, Josh had been on scene for a few minutes and he was with the male party and in the apartment. So, I told her just to hang tight there. I’ll be right back with her and get more of a story from her, and that’s when I walked into the apartment and told him he was under arrest,” Merrill said.

Deputy Merrill joined Liz Collin Reports after being named the Police Officer First Responder of the Year by the Minnesota 100 Club. (Photo provided to Alpha News)

“That’s when shots were fired. That whole call was very routine. I don’t like to use the word routine, but there were no red flags, it was just a routine call, a routine call that turned into a deadly-force situation in about two seconds,” he said.

Brian Nygard has been identified as the man who killed Owen. Deputy Merrill was able to fire back as he was hit in the chest by gunfire and Officer Olson was struck in the ankle.

“I never thought I’d be put into a situation like that, but yeah, you prepare for it in training. You know, we have good trainers where we work and they emphasize, you know, just kind of being alert, watching your surroundings and looking for signs, but there was none of that in this situation. It was just blink of an eye. You had to make that decision,” he said.

Deputy Merrill then worked to save his partner’s life.

“Me and Josh, we did have a special bond together. It was, you spend more time with the guys, you know, with him than you do your own family. So, yeah, me and Josh were super close,” he said.

Deputy Merrill commented on how thankful he is for the outpouring of support he’s received in the community.

“It’s nearly seven months out and I’ve been working night shifts the last six weeks and you still drive around in the night and you still see those blue lights out in the distance. You see a lot of flags,” he said.

Deputy Josh Owen’s casket is escorted by law enforcement during his funeral at Minnewaska High School. (Alpha News)

“It does give you that morale boost to kind of keep pushing forward,” he added.

He said he knew he always wanted to go back to the job.

“It was a calling. My mom worked at the local police department, and I knew a lot of them growing up and had some police officers in the family. It was a calling and something I always wanted to do, give back, and serve,” he said.

But he had his doubts after the incident.

“It crossed my mind. It was like, why am I doing this? Is it worth it? I have a fiancée I’m getting married to in the next couple of weeks. I questioned it, but ultimately, I was led back to, Josh wouldn’t want me to quit … I just didn’t want that incident to, you know, wreck two lives … It was hard to come back and kind of regain my footing and feel confident. You know, that took time,” Merrill said.

The Minnesota 100 Club is a nonprofit that provides emergency financial assistance to first responders who are killed or critically injured in the line of duty. This year alone more than $200,000 has been given to the families of Minnesota’s first responders.


Liz Collin

Liz Collin has been a truth-teller for 20 years as a multi-Emmy-Award-winning reporter and anchor. Liz is a Worthington, Minnesota native who lives in the suburbs with her husband, son and loyal lab.