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‘I hope he went quick,’ says friend who found Daniel Halseth’s body

Updated April 23, 2021 - 11:38 am

Daniel Halseth broadcast his life to the world on social media.

Pictures of the 45-year-old’s youngest daughter, Sierra, and detailed personal posts filled his Facebook page. On Twitter, an automated service still sends out the occasional inspirational quote to his more than 13,000 followers.

Six days before his badly burned body was found on April 9 in the garage of his home, tucked in a quiet northwest Las Vegas cul-de-sac, Halseth posted a fuzzy video of Sierra from when she was little. In the clip, he asks her to say hello to the camera. The girl, wrapped in a bright pink towel, says, “Hi,” with wide eyes, seemingly reluctant.

Halseth died of “sharp force injuries,” according to the Clark County coroner’s office. His death was ruled a homicide. Newly purchased blood-covered power tools were found strewn about the house, records show.

Sierra, now 16, faces a murder charge in connection with her dad’s killing, along with her boyfriend, 18-year-old Aaron Guerrero. Records indicate they started dating in June, but after the teens’ parents learned in December that they planned to leave for Los Angeles together, they were kept from seeing each other.

The couple were arrested in Salt Lake City, after police said they fled Las Vegas in Halseth’s car. They were extradited to Nevada and booked into the Clark County Detention Center on Thursday, jail records show.

“Through so much adversity, pain, in ways I can’t share, you’ve come to be so beautiful, and lovely it makes me happy to call you, daughter,” Halseth, the ex-husband of former state Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, wrote in a Dec. 16 Facebook post, celebrating Sierra’s 16th birthday.

Court records show that Sierra and her two older siblings, a 17-year-old brother and 18-year-old sister, were at the center of a bitter, ongoing custody battle between Halseth and Sierra’s mother, now Elizabeth Helgelien after remarrying. Helgelien was granted primary custody after Halseth filed for divorce in 2011, but the former couple began disputing the custody arrangement last year.

In August, Halseth was ordered to return Sierra to her mother’s custody after a judge found that he was in violation of their agreement, records show. Less than a week before the order, Halseth filed a motion to alter the custody agreement and “to address CPS intervention,” but further information was not available in court records. A spokeswoman with Child Protective Services declined to release any potential records related to Sierra to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, citing confidentiality.

“After nine years, you’ve been able to research for yourself the things that transpired in your life,” Halseth’s post on Sierra’s birthday continued, “with such grace, wisdom, and understanding that is beyond your years.”

That day, he also pressed sticky notes to his fridge that read, “a young woman who knows her worth,” and “one day at a time,” according to photos he posted.

Despite the loving Facebook updates, Peggy Newman, Halseth’s friend and landlord, knew Halseth was having issues with Sierra, she told the Review-Journal.

But she never expected the grisly scene she discovered when Halseth’s mother asked Newman to check on her son the morning of April 9.

“I hope he went quick,” Newman said of Halseth’s death.

A bloody scene

In the pre-dawn hours of April 8, Sierra’s boyfriend ran away from home.

Over the next few hours, he and Sierra purchased a circular saw, saw blades, bleach, lighter fluid, disposable gloves and drop cloth from stores near Halseth’s home, according to arresting documents.

Hundreds of dollars was withdrawn from a joint bank account that day that Bogdana Halseth — Halseth’s second ex-wife, married to him for seven years before a 2019 divorce — still shared with him.

“Knowing this was not typically an action done by Daniel, Bogdana (texted) Daniel to no avail,” investigators wrote in the report. “Bogdana attempted to call Daniel to again receive no response.”

Next, Halseth’s mother tried contacting her son. When he didn’t answer, she called Sierra, who told her grandmother that her father’s phone was broken.

By 10 a.m. the next day, there was still no word from Halseth. His mother again called Sierra, “demanding to speak to Daniel,” but the girl claimed he was in the shower, records show. When her grandmother threatened to call the police, Sierra hung up.

Less than 20 minutes later, surveillance footage captured a Nissan Altima matching the description of Daniel Halseth’s car leaving the area, records show.

That’s about the time that Halseth’s mother called Newman, asking her to stop by. Newman obliged but couldn’t get to the house until hours later, and waited in Halseth’s driveway for a friend to arrive, she told the Review-Journal. She was scared to walk in alone.

Together, Newman and the friend entered through Halseth’s unlocked front door. The living room smelled of smoke. A large area had been scorched, she said.

Going through every upstairs bedroom, she and her friend searched for signs of life. They found Halseth’s charred remains lying next to his garage door.

“I hope he didn’t see his daughter hurting him,” Newman later said of the discovery, after learning of Sierra’s arrest. “I know he loved his three children very much.”

Police documented two “folding pocketknives” in the kitchen sink, along with a circular saw on the table and a chainsaw in the living room.

A ‘sad story’

Halseth made the news long before his gruesome death, when he was arrested in October 2011 on the eve of his first divorce, following a dispute with Helgelien. He pleaded guilty a year later to misdemeanor counts of coercion and battery and was sentenced to six months’ probation and anger management classes.

In divorce filings, the couple argued over Halseth’s child support payments and social media posts, which Helgelien claimed were targeting her. Halseth tried to prevent Helgelien from moving to Alaska with their three children to be with a boyfriend at the time, identified in court documents only as “Mr. Helgelien.”

Helgelien resigned from her state Senate seat in February 2012, a move that members of the Senate Republican Caucus in a letter at the time saluted, considering it a decision to “focus on providing for her young children.”

Halseth called the situation a “sad story” in a 2012 email to the Review-Journal.

“Along with this the ability for me to clear my name of any wrongdoing brought on vindictively, I pray for peace and that this will be old news soon and everybody can move on from this horrible pain,” he wrote.

Attempts to reach Helgelien for this article were unsuccessful.

Helgelien eventually moved to Alaska with the children, court records show. It’s unclear when she moved back to Nevada, but she lost a 2018 election for state Senate.

While in Alaska, Sierra and her older sister competed in beauty pageants, according to a 2015 online issue of Pageantry magazine. A picture identified Sierra as “Alaska Pre-Teen Sweetheart” and her sister as “‘North to the Future’ Jr. Sweetheart.”

Sierra’s curly hair stuck out underneath the sparkling tiara she wore while posing for the picture. A 2012 video that Halseth shared on Facebook showed Sierra’s same ringlets bouncing as she twirled around, holding her father’s hands.

“Dancing with my little princess Sierra,” Halseth wrote in the post.

“All about his children”

Halseth was born in Estacada, Oregon, about 28 miles southeast of Portland, according to an online obituary. He came from a long line of Oregonians, his aunt, Diane Wendt, said, noting that his father, Wendell Halseth, and his family were some of the state’s early settlers.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Western Oregon University, where he was known as “Drummer Dan,” and a master’s business degree from Corban University in Salem, the state capital.

Helgelien also was from Oregon, raised with her four siblings by her mother in Salem. She and Halseth moved to Las Vegas in 2006, when the economy was at the tail end of an all-time boom. She won her first-ever campaign for public office four years later, despite an outsider background, the Review-Journal reported at the time.

On his Pinterest page, filled with affirmations and more inspirational quotes, Halseth wrote that he loved fitness, music and “making a difference out there.”

“Looking for things that inspire me, while sharing things that lift others,” his bio still reads. “Chivalry is not dead.”

Halseth shared his personal photography on Facebook and Instagram, including landscape shots from across the Las Vegas Valley. He frequently posted video updates, including glimpses of his cat, Orange. He traveled frequently and shared pictures from Oakland, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, within weeks of his death.

His Facebook page also documented his political beliefs, including numerous posts in support of then-President Donald Trump leading up to last year’s election. Helgelien, a conservative Christian, won her state Senate seat as a Republican.

After the divorce, Halseth spent time in Texas working as an IT specialist for a company based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It’s unclear when he returned to Las Vegas, but he worked as a “computer consultant” while in the valley, according to Newman, who knew Halseth for about 10 years.

His life was “all about his children,” his aunt wrote to the Review-Journal. “They were first in his life — always.”

Newman said Halseth and his children lived with her for a few months last year up until July, when she started renting him the home where she found him dead.

Mark Wariner, a Texas radio host who founded a station on veterans’ issues, met Halseth while he was living in Plano, north of Dallas. Halseth helped him with charity events and video work, Wariner wrote in a message to the Review-Journal.

Halseth could always be found taking pictures at events and parties, Wariner said. He wanted to capture the memories.

“He had a smile that would extend from cheek to cheek and he loved helping people,” Wariner said.

Halseth’s online obituary, which noted that he “died suddenly” in Las Vegas, highlighted his “sincere smile” and the saying he lived by: “always stop and smell the roses.”

It noted that he is survived by “two loving children,” with no mention of Sierra.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Sabrina Schnur contributed to this report.

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