Anarae Schunk loved chess, friends and helping others

Anarae Schunk
Anarae Schunk

On Monday, Anarae Schunk’s friend and former chess coach agonized over the slightest hope that the missing 20-year-old Burnsville woman, whom police feared had been murdered, might be found alive.

“This is just a very nightmarish period for the chess program and for Burnsville and for her family and for myself,” said Brian Ribnick, chess coach at Metcalf Junior High, where Schunk was the most accomplished female player in school history. “It just goes on and on.”

Some finality came Tuesday, when Rosemount police announced that a body found Monday in rural Rice County had been identified by the Hennepin County medical examiner as Schunk’s. The announcement capped an effort that included police searches and numerous search parties around Dakota County arranged by family and friends.

Still, no one had been charged in Schunk’s death as of early Wednesday night, when this edition went to press. Still in custody is Schunk’s ex-boyfriend, alleged murderer Anthony Lee Nelson, with whom she was last seen on surveillance footage outside Nina’s Grill in Burnsville at closing time Sept. 22.

Nelson, 31, of Rosemount, is accused of killing 23-year-old  Palagor Obang Jobi of Savage with eight gunshots during an altercation outside the northeast Burnsville bar.

Also still in custody is 24-year-old Ashley Marie Conrade, Nelson’s current girlfriend, accused of aiding an offender for allegedly harboring Nelson at her Rosemount townhouse after the murder.

Nelson, an ex-convict with a Minnesota adult criminal record dating back to 2004, fled the scene in a car with the other two women, authorities said.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, Burnsville police announced they’d uncovered evidence that Schunk, a third-year student at the University of Minnesota, may have been murdered. According to media reports, her brother Tyler said the evidence was his sister’s bloodied U of M-logoed jacket, full of puncture holes and found at the apartment of Nelson’s ex-wife in St. Paul. A knife connected with the case was reportedly found on the roof of the apartment building.

Schunk, a 2011 Burnsville High School graduate who had lived with her parents until moving to Minneapolis in August, was described by her brother Owen as intelligent and an excellent student, but with a big heart that led her into the four- to six-month relationship with Nelson last year. Friends and family didn’t approve, Owen told the newspaper Sept. 24.

“She cares about people. … She saw him as somebody that she could participate in the growth and assistance of,” he said.

Anarae was distraught after breaking off the relationship around Thanksgiving, he said. She had arranged to meet Nelson in Burnsville on Sept. 21 to recover something, whether money or personal keepsakes, he said.

A fellow U of M student said Schunk stepped down from a group called Students for Education Reform last December because of “personal issues.”

They likely were related to the relationship, said Kenneth Eban, who served on the group’s executive board with her.

“She always contributed at meetings and contributed questions and concerns with us,” Eban said. “But definitely you could kind of tell that something wasn’t right as far as her situation because there would be times where she would snap off or disengage unexpectedly. I unfortunately never took the time to see what was bothering her in her personal life because as I said before, you’re wrapped up in your own thing and I just thought that that’s how Anarae is … I never really dove deep into the question of what might be bothering her.”

Chess whiz,
mentor, loyal

Schunk rose to the pinnacle of the Metcalf Junior High chess program, a traditional powerhouse in state and national competitions, in 2008, her freshman year.

She became the team’s No. 1 board, a first for a Metcalf girl in the male-dominated activity.

“As soon as her name was up on the ladder, I remember her taking a picture of that,” coach Ribnick said.

The team voted her captain, a prestigious role at Metcalf, Ribnick said.

“Right away, she said, ‘Well, Rib, can you handle a woman as captain of your team?’ ” he recalled.

With her leadership and people skills, the honor was no surprise.

“She believes so unfailingly in other people,” Ribnick said. “She believes in them and their potential. When she is your friend or you’re her friend, it immediately goes way beyond friends. You’re her sister or her brother. And she has your back.”

She was part of a trio of talented female players that year — so good that Ribnick entered Metcalf in the Girls Under 16 National Chess Championship for the first time ever or since.

The girls took second in the competition in Dallas, and Schunk finished in the top 10 individually, said Ribnick, a Metcalf math teacher.

“Most any (chess) club you go to  in the country will be predominantly guys,” he said, which “didn’t bother or faze her one bit. She helped attract other young ladies to the game. She absolutely thrived under it.”

Their relationship didn’t end after Schunk went on to Burnsville High School, where she captained the chess team, joined the math club, played saxophone and clarinet and was chosen  a class speaker at graduation.

Schunk returned to Metcalf as an assistant chess coach for five years running. This season would have been her sixth.

Schunk also privately tutored several of Ribnick’s classroom students in math last year and this year. She has coached School District 191 elementary chess programs at Sioux Trail, Hidden Valley and Gideon Pond, Ribnick said.

She remained an active competitor in the Minnesota State Chess Association, one of its top women players, Ribnick said. She also worked as a private chess tutor.

From her days as a junior high player, Schunk impressed on the coach that he was in charge of a family, not just a team,  Ribnick said.

“That’s what she brought to my coaching,” he said. “She made me better and our team better. And that’s what we have been ever since.”

Betsy Helfand of the University of Minnesota’s Murphy News Service contributed to this story.