Sucker punch

Witnesses report unprovoked downtown assault; one Missoula man in hospital

Posted by Jessica Mayrer on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 3:37 PM


On Dec. 7, Russ Talmo, Liz Fairbank, Erik Thompson and another person left a friend’s graduation party at Charlie B’s in downtown Missoula and walked south on Higgins Avenue toward their homes. The group toyed with the idea of grabbing a late-night snack, ultimately deciding against it. None of them could’ve anticipated what happened next.

Fairbank says a man standing next to a parked vehicle muttered something that she didn’t understand. There was no exchange of words and no obvious aggressive posturing before the man attacked, sending Talmo crumbling to the ground.

“He was basically already unconscious (before he hit the ground),” Fairbank says. “It happened all in just a few seconds.”

Fairbank dropped to her knees and asked Talmo to respond. He didn’t. “It was unprovoked,” she says. “(It) seems totally random.”

Erik Thompson says he was about a half-block behind Talmo and Fairbank, and engaged in another conversation when the attack occurred. He agrees that the assault appeared unprovoked. “Things happened way too fast for anything to have been said,” Thompson says.

Thompson and other onlookers tried to stop the assailant, but before they could he hopped into the car and sped off. Witnesses report there was more than one suspect involved in the attack.

As of press time, the Missoula Police Department had released few details about the alleged beating, other than to say that law enforcement responded to the scene. “We did find a male on the sidewalk,” says MPD Sgt. Travis Welsh. “The case is active and ongoing.”

Talmo, meanwhile, was hospitalized following the attack. His mother, Linda Fritz, who last week flew in from her Colorado home to care for her son, says that Talmo’s injuries range from bleeding and swelling on the brain to multiple hairline skull fractures and a fractured orbital socket. Talmo’s eyes were nearly swollen shut. Doctors used staples to close a gash in the back of his head. Talmo also lost a tooth, either as a result of the assailant’s blow, Fritz says, or while landing on the sidewalk.

Fritz says her son is still in a considerable amount of pain. Though he was discharged Dec. 9 from the hospital, he had to be readmitted on Dec. 13. As of press time, Talmo, 35, remains there.

Since moving to Missoula 13 years ago, Talmo has been involved with numerous local organizations. He volunteers on the Missoula Ultimate Federation Board of Directors and works as a conservationist, most recently as a project assistant for Defenders of Wildlife. His friends are holding a fundraiser on Dec. 19 at Montgomery Distillery to help cover his medical expenses.

“He’s a good person who treats people very well,” says Katy-Robin Garton, a friend who immediately visited Talmo at the hospital following the attack. “You always think that good people don’t deserve to have bad things happen to them.”

Largely because Talmo doesn’t remember the assault and also because witnesses including Fairbank and Thompson didn’t actually see it occur, Fritz is working to piece together what happened to her son. She believes that the assailant either hit Talmo with something heavy from behind and sent him to the ground, where he landed unconscious on his face, or that Talmo was punched in the face and that his head snapped back to hit the building behind him.

Regardless of how it happened, why it happened remains frustratingly unclear. The uncertainty has prompted some of Talmo’s acquaintances to speculate that he fell victim to what’s called “knockout,” a game in which people attempt to floor a victim in just one punch and then post the assaults online.

Knockout’s origins are disputed, but the media reported on a series of assaults in St. Louis in 2011, including one perpetrated by four young men who killed a 72-year-old Vietnamese immigrant and injured his wife. In the wake of the St. Louis attacks, knockout reports surfaced in Washington, D.C., New Haven, Conn., and New York City.

While the media devotes a significant amount of attention to knockout, law enforcement cautions that the game could be getting blown out of proportion. The New York Times last month quoted New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly saying, “We’re trying to determine whether or not this is a real phenomenon.”

In Missoula, Sgt. Welsh tells the Independent that he hadn’t heard of the game until a reporter covering the Talmo case asked him about it.

Garton, Fairbank and Fritz say they don’t care so much about what to call the unprovoked violence directed at Talmo and at knockout victims, but believe the incident deserves attention. “Give it a name, don’t give it a name,” Garton says. “It’s still the same thing.”

The effects of the attack are still being felt by Talmo and witnesses. Fritz says her son worries when she leaves his side at the hospital and asks her to get a security escort to her car. As for Fairbank, she’s having a hard time sleeping and is now wary of walking downtown.

“It’s a really scary thing to think that there’s someone out there who’s willing to do this to somebody randomly, who they don’t even know,” she says.

Comments (14)

Showing 1-14 of 14

Brendan, carrying a weapon around downtown is a terrible idea and will only exacerbate the problem.

Posted by Greg Strandberg on 01/14/2014 at 12:26 AM

Just an interesting note: stuff like this happens in ENGLAND in smaller towns and cities all the time. Typical "Clockwork Orange"-style violence, which is all-too-common in disarmed societies.
My advice to anyone reading this is A. DON'T walk around drunk downtown and B. Get a State of Montana Concealed Carry Permit, and a weapon you are comfortable and competent using. Also find some good PRACTICAL martial arts instruction (like the A.R.M.S. course offered in Missoula by David R. Mobley, who has since moved to Oregon but hopes to return to Missoula fairly soon!)
Oh and, don't support gun bans. If we get one, you can expect thuggery like this to skyrocket... just like in has in England!

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Posted by Brendan G. on 01/10/2014 at 3:30 PM

I can't even imagine how awful Russ's family must feel that a casual stroll could turn into a life altering incident. I have heard there are new "challenges" younger people are doing via UTube where groups of "friends" will be driving along and pick out someone randomly. They get out of their vehicle, harm that individual physically as much as they can, get back in their vehicle and run. They put it on UTube to see how many "hits" they can get. Not sure if that's going on in Missoula, but I have seen it being highlighted in stories on national news. Pretty pitiful and sad for all including the perpetrators...HOW BORED COULD THEY BE???

Posted by Amy on 12/23/2013 at 4:47 AM

Another example of the lovely effects of alcohol. LEGAL ALCOHOL. It's not only legal, it's socially so acceptable that it's become almost expected. Downtown has become a mess with all of the people who now have to stand outside to smoke - the bar patrons are now outside for the most part - WITH THEIR DRINKS - and it's made walking around at night even more dangerous than it ever was. Groups of people drunk - standing outside - just asking for incidents like this to occur. SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE!!!

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Posted by Amy Johnson on 12/20/2013 at 5:19 AM

Sadly we've seen many such cases just like this in Missoula before, and I think we'll see them again. Montanans have a problem with alcohol.

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Posted by Greg Strandberg on 12/20/2013 at 4:00 AM

This is truly an example of bad things happening to good people. Rusty is a very caring, dedicated person who must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully, Rusty has the youthful strength and positive attitude to recover from the hideous attack.

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Posted by Rusty Mayes on 12/19/2013 at 12:17 PM

The truly sad back story for our community & Russ Talmo's unfortunate assault. Thank you Jessica Mayrer for this piece. I think moving forward with the healing process starts with raising community awareness of senseless violence around Missoula and helping raise support for crime victims like Russ. Please pitch in if you can:

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Posted by Brace Hayden on 12/19/2013 at 7:34 AM

My God! I hope this guy is going to be ok and the cowardly jerk that did this crime gets caught. We just don’t need this sort of trash running around Missoula.

Thanks goes out to Blake Nicolazzo for putting out the word on the fund set up to help Russ in his recovery. I’m going to give.

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Posted by Shadow on 12/18/2013 at 9:21 PM

did anyone get any description of the attacker?

Posted by walt on 12/18/2013 at 2:21 PM

Thank you Jessica and the Indy for bringing this story to the Missoula community

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Posted by Katy-Robin Garton on 12/18/2013 at 9:06 AM

God, I hope find the bastard who did this and put him away for a long time.

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Posted by Bwinslow on 12/17/2013 at 10:01 PM

Whether or not "knockout" was a phenomenon before all the media attention, it is one now and susceptible sociopaths will take it up. Tragic events follow - how to avert them? Better to shun the whole idea or to create a counter-narrative?

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Posted by Friend of Russ on 12/17/2013 at 8:58 PM

The same thing happened to me a couple of years ago: a random, unprovoked assault - downtown. I won't go anywhere alone anymore after dark.

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Posted by Ryan Morton on 12/17/2013 at 4:51 PM

There is a fund set up to help Russ in his recovery:…

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Posted by Blake Nicolazzo on 12/17/2013 at 4:28 PM
Showing 1-14 of 14

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