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Dallas community rallying to help seven children left behind by mother's death

DALLAS — Eight years ago, Catie Lutt moved to the small South Dakota town of Dallas from Omaha in the hopes of escaping big-city crime.

With a population of 120 people, Lutt thought she would be safe to raise her children in the Gregory County town, and not have to teach them at a young age about the "evils of the world."

In Dallas, Lutt met and befriended Kristi Olson. Eight years later, on June 1 of this year, Olson was allegedly murdered, and Lutt was faced with the same crime she had hoped to leave behind.

"She spent a lot of time at Kristi's, so it's kind of thrown her off, too," Lutt said of her four-year-old daughter. "We told her Kristi's gone, but we didn't tell her what happened. She'll learn about it eventually, but we don't need that evil around."

In honor of Olson, Lutt is helping organize a benefit to support Olson's seven children, who range in age from 7 to 20 years old. There will also be a meal, sponsored by Buche Foods and Frank Day's, with enough food to feed 500 people.

The benefit is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the Dallas American Legion, and will feature a large silent and live auction of more than 150 items, and proceeds will go to the Olson family.

Sponsored by Dallas Cares, a community organization designed to provide assistance to area families and organizations in need, Lutt said there has been an outpouring of support. Donations have flowed in from across the region, including many from Burke, Gregory, Colome and Winner, Lutt said.

Along with the benefit, an account has been set up for the family at BankWest in Gregory, a rummage sale will be held sometime this summer, with a date yet to be determined and a meal train has been set up, providing meals for the family through July.

"It's been a really good community effort for them," Lutt said. "Small towns are good for that."

Olson's former boyfriend Chance Harruff, 46, is accused of first- and- second-degree murder in Olson's death, which occurred in the early morning hours of June 1. After responding to a report of an unresponsive woman, police allegedly found Olson with marks and possible bruising on her neck, and she was later pronounced dead at an area hospital.

An argument between Harruff and Olson escalated and Harruff allegedly struck 38-year-old Olson with a " 'mule' strength punch" to her chest, which knocked her to the floor, according to court documents. Harruff then allegedly left the scene without knowing if Olson needed medical assistance. A hearing to schedule a jury trial for Harruff is set for August.

And Olson's relationship with Harruff had a history of abuse.

According to court documents, family members and law enforcement officers told South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation officers the couple had a volatile and violent relationship that led to several previous incidents of domestic violence, but Olson always refused to notify authorities of the incidents. The couple had lived together, but Harruff recently moved out of Olson's Dallas residence.

Described as a loving and devoted mother by longtime friend Ionia Kline, Olson was a lifelong resident of the Dallas area and was "loving, giving, spontaneous, a lot of fun and just a really good person." For Klein, though she lost one of her close friends in a tragic way, the alleged murder doesn't overshadow the benefits of living in a small, usually safe community.

"I'd say it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, thankfully," she said. "It's just really tough, she was like one of my kids and there's so much of her kids' futures she'll miss now."

Faced with difficult emotions, Klein said the past two weeks have been tough for everyone in the community and beyond, but especially for Olson's family. The children all seem to be faring as well as possible, given the circumstances, Klein said, and are in the company of their grandmother. And they're all leaning on the support of the community, which Klein said will continue far beyond the end of today's event.

"The support for Kristi, her children and family has been incredible," Kline said. "As a friend, she is someone I'll never forget — I, and everyone that knew her, is going to miss her terribly, and we will all be around her children to help along the way."