BONNER COUNTY, Idaho – The investigation into the brutal murder of a 38-year-old North Idaho man continues as the cases against those accused of playing a role in the homicide move through the legal system. The body of Brandon Vern Hurst was found dumped off the side of the a road in the Upper Pack River area late last year, according to deputies.
Documents show Hurst's body was put on top of a sled, wrapped up in a tarp and apparently pushed down 15 to 20 foot embankment.
The victim’s family says the extent of injuries can only be described as ‘overkill.’ They are sharing their story of loss and fear in hopes it will help another family struggling with addiction.
“Brandon (Vern Hurst) would have wanted that,” his family said.
Loved ones say he struggled for years with drugs, but had come to them just before he died saying he wanted to get help, and wanted a better life.
“We’re devastated,” his sister Heidi told KHQ. “We have a huge loss… in our family.”
Heidi says her brother was a father of four, born and raised in North Idaho, and had a passion for all things outdoors.
“He loved to fish, hunt...spending more of his time in the woods,” Heidi said.
Heidi says there was so much good about him, but added that he had his demons. For years, she says she was consumed with worry.
"I loved him with all my heart,” she said. “He was my baby brother.”
The family says he had a long history struggling with addiction.
"He'd been into drugs a really long time,” Heidi said. “It started when he was about 11.”
She and other loved ones hoped and prayed he find a path toward healing and recovery.
"I have a message on my phone, five days before this happened, where he said, ‘I want to get clean,’” she said. “He was robbed of that chance.”
And, as it’s alleged in the court system, by someone this family says he once trusted. Heidi says she hasn't missed a court hearing, even when it meant she had to listen to the disturbing details of her brother's final moments.
“They dug into Facebook and found messages that had been written,” she said.
The victim’s former love interest, Cantrip Velite Gatens, is accused of luring Hurst to meet her claiming she had vehicle trouble. Instead, investigators believe it was an ambush. Multiple arrests followed in the weeks after finding Hurst’s body. The suspected gunman has been identified as 59-year-old Neal Mouser. He's facing a first degree murder charge for Hurst’s death.
“No matter what he was into, he was a good person, he had a good heart, and he deserves justice,” Heidi said.
And while they wait for that, they want their story to reach and possible help other families out there who may have a loved one who is tied up in drugs.
“Get help, before it's too late,” she said.
The family says Gatens is set to be in court early next year to be sentenced for a lesser charge. She was initially facing a charge of conspiracy to commit first degree murder.
Mouser is also set to make another court appearance before year’s end.