Astra Volk seemed like an average with her son customer at Grand Forks’ Super Pawn, recounts store manager Michael Stamper, who saw Volk in early May. She wanted to purchase a handgun for personal and home defense, prompted by a series of recent break-ins around town. Stamper noted that Volk did not seem upset or acted in any way but normal, and her background check returned within minutes with an all-clear to buy the gun.
“She was in here with her son, and they were kind of joking back and forth,” Stamper said. “While she was filling it out (the paperwork), I was kind of chatting with her kid, kind of joking back and forth. They were talking about going to CherryBerry afterwards, and he actually invited me.”
Volk decided on purchasing a SIG Sauer Mosquito, a small .22 LR pistol popular with women. Stamper said he demonstrated how to properly handle the firearm, including how to load and unload the magazine and which specifications of ammunition were used with the gun.
Volk used the handgun no more than a day after purchase to kill her children – Arianna Talmage, 6, Aidan Talmage, 10, and Tyler Talmage, 14 – before committing suicide, according to Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel. Their bodies were discovered on May 3rd following a welfare check at their home in Grand Forks. The Grand Forks Police Department has ruled the case a triple-murder suicide, but the case remains under current investigation. The handgun sold to Volk is the only weapons recovered from the crime scene, Lt. Brett Johnson said. It is not apparent if Volk owned other firearms.
Volk previously discussed her struggles with mental illness before her death, and family members disclosed that she previously attempted suicide. However, there were no legal barriers to Volk obtaining a firearm, Zimmel said. Super Pawn conducted a proper background check with the FBI and cleared the gun purchase, according to police. “Every indication was that was completed legally and to standard,” Zimmel said.
Volk had most recently attempted suicide earlier this year, according to her mother. In 2014, police intervened when Volk’s ex-husband reported she was planning to commit suicide, according to an incident report from the Grand Forks Police Department. A week before the killings, Volk solicited financial help through the donor website GoFundMe to cover medical expenses related to her mental illness.
Anyone looking to purchase a gun in North Dakota must present a state ID, like a driver’s license, be at least 21 years old, and undergo a federal background check. Federal law requires firearm vendors to conduct national background checks, but North Dakota does not pose any addition restrictions or requirements during the purchasing process. Pawnshops must follow the same regulations if they sell firearms, according to Seth Dye, owner of Pawn Pros in Fargo. “If a customer comes to retrieve a gun after pawning it, another background check must be conducted to make sure he is eligible to receive the firearm.” he said.
The background check includes a short form to determine eligibility to own a gun, like whether the person is a convicted felon, using illegal drugs, or if a court has ruled a buyer “mentally defective”. This information is sent to the FBI, who cross-references the customer’s record with a federal database. These checks take several minutes to complete if a buyer’s record is clear and has proper ID, although delays can occur if a buyer has a common name or an unobtainable criminal history.