BIRCHWOOD, Wis.—A Wisconsin hunter is accused of killing five people and wounding another three after he allegedly shot them over a fight involving a tree stand, authorities said Monday.
The dead included a teenage boy, a woman and a father and son, Sawyer County Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle said. Some of the victims were shot more than once.
The shootings took place in northwest Wisconsin during the hunting season’s opening weekend. Wisconsin’s statewide deer gun hunting season started Saturday and lasts for nine days.
The 36-year-old suspect was arrested Sunday afternoon, Sawyer County sheriff’s officials said. Jake Hodgkinson, a deputy at the county jail, identified the alleged gunman as Chai Soua Vang but would give no additional details.
Paul Schnell, a spokesman for the St. Paul, Minn., police department, said the suspect was from St. Paul.
“This incident has certainly caused a sense of disarray and disbelief in our community,” Barron County Sheriff Tom Richie told reporters at a Monday morning news conference at Lakeview Medical Center in Rice Lake, where at least two of the victims were being treated.
Richie said all five of the dead and the three wounded were well-known members of the community in Rice Lake. The five dead were all from Barron County, he said.
A 2 p.m. EST news conference was planned Monday, in which the names of the deceased victims were going to be released, as well as other information about them.
The most critically wounded person, Denny Drew, remained in intensive care following three hours of surgery yesterday, Dr. Lynn Koob at Lakeview Medical Center said. Drew was shot in the abdomen and suffered injuries to multiple organs.
Lauren Hesebeck, another male victim, was in stable condition at Lakeview Medical Center. Hesebeck was in stable condition with a gunshot wound to the shoulder and arm.
A third man, Terry Willers, was sent to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield. He was in critical condition.
A fund has been established for the victims, Lakeview hospital administrator Ned Wolf said at the news conference.
!<)chai.jpg! The incident began as two hunters were returning to their rural cabin on private land in Sawyer County and they saw the suspect in one of their hunting platforms in a tree, Zeigle said. The platforms or “tree stands” allow hunters to see deer without being easily seen themselves. A confrontation ensued, followed by an exchange of gunfire. It’s not known who fired the first shot, Zeigle said. Both hunters were wounded and one of them radioed friends at the cabin a quarter-mile away. Other hunters responded and were shot. About 20 shots were fired, but it’s unclear if any of the hunters had fired at the suspect or who might have shot first, Zeigle said. There was just one gun among the eight people killed or wounded, he said. All five victims were dead when officers arrived at the area in southwestern Sawyer County, he said. Authorities found two bodies near each other and the others were scattered over 100 yards. “It’s absolutely nuts. Why? Over sitting in a tree stand?” asked Zeigle. Zeigle said the suspect was “chasing after them and killing them,” with an SKS 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle, a common hunting weapon. Two young people who stayed in the cabin emerged safely after the shootings. The suspect, who did not have a compass, got lost in the woods and two other hunters, not knowing about the shootings, helped him find his way out, Zeigle said. When he emerged, a Department of Natural Resources officer recognized the deer license on his back, given to police by a victim, Zeigle said. The man was out of bullets and was arrested, Zeigle said. Hunter Bill Wagner, 72, of Oshkosh, was about two miles away near Deer Lake with a party of about 20 other hunters. After they got word of the shootings, he and others went to round up the rest of the party. He said they heard sirens, planes and helicopters and noticed the surrounding roads blocked off. “When you’re hunting you don’t expect somebody to try to shoot you and murder you,” he said. “You have no idea who is coming up to you.” It took about three hours to round up the other hunters, who were up to four miles apart, Wagner said. “We’re all old, dyed-in-wool hunters,” he said. “We wouldn’t go home because of this but we will keep it in our minds. We’re not forgetting it.”