CRANDON, Wis. (Oct. 8) - The residents Tyler Peterson was hired to protect and serve can't understand how the 20-year-old who shot six of their young people and critically injured another could have passed a background check to become a sheriff's deputy.
Peterson was shot to death after opening fire early Sunday on a group of students and recent graduates who had gathered for pizza and movies on their high school's homecoming weekend. Peterson was off-duty from his full-time job as a Forest County deputy sheriff; he also was a part-time Crandon police officer.
David Franz, 36, who lives with his wife two houses from the duplex where the shooting occurred, said it was hard to accept that someone in law enforcement was the gunman.
"The first statement we said to each other was, how did he get through the system?" Franz said. "How do they know somebody's background, especially that young? It is disturbing, to say the least."
Sheriff Keith Van Cleve said he would meet with state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on Monday morning to discuss the case.
Crandon Police Chief John Dennee said it would be handled by the state Department of Criminal Investigation because the suspect was a deputy and officer.
Peterson was killed Sunday afternoon, eight miles north of Crandon in the rural town of Argonne, Dennee said.
Crandon mayor Gary Bradley said Sunday that a sniper killed the suspect, but Van Cleve would not confirm that officers shot him.
The gunman's motive was unclear, but the mother of a 14-year-old victim, Lindsey Stahl, said the suspect may have been a jealous boyfriend.
"I'm waiting for somebody to wake me up right now. This is a bad, bad dream," said Jenny Stahl. "All I heard it was a jealous boyfriend and he went berserk. He took them all out."
Dennee declined comment on whether Peterson had a romantic relationship with any of the victims.
The white, two-story duplex was about a block from downtown Crandon, a town of about 2,000 located 225 miles north of Milwaukee in an area known for logging and outdoor activities. The victims had gathered for what Dennee described as "a pizza and movie party."
Three of the victims were Crandon High School students, said school Superintendent Richard Peters, and the other three had graduated within the past three years.
"There is probably nobody in Crandon who is not affected by this," Peters said, adding that students "are going to wake up in shock and disbelief and a lot of pain."
Peters did not know whether Peterson had graduated from the 300-student school. But Crandon resident Karly Johnson, 16, said that she knew the gunman and that he had helped her in a tech education class.
"He graduated with my brother," she said. "He was nice. He was an average guy. Normal. You wouldn't think he could do that."
The Crandon School District called off classes Monday.
One victim, 20-year-old Bradley Schultz, was a third-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who was home to visit his friends, said his aunt, Sharon Pisarek.
"We still don't have many details, but from what they've told us, there was a girl next to him and he was covering her, protecting her," she said, sobbing. "He was loved by everybody. He was everybody's son. Senseless."
David Franz's wife, Marci, said she was awakened by the gunshots.
"I heard probably five or six shots, a short pause and then five or six more," she said. "I wasn't sure if it was gunfire initially. I thought some kids were messing around and hitting a nearby metal building."
Then she heard eight louder shots and tires squealing, she said.
"I was just about to get up and call it in, and I heard sirens," she said. "There's never been a tragedy like this here. There's been individual incidents, but nothing of this magnitude."
I know of police officers who got the job at 18. High school diploma is all you need to apply.
If this was a case of a jaded boyfriend, I don't see how a more thorough background check could have spotted any warning signs. A lot of these things are crimes of passion, and a cop has real easy access to a gun. Killing 6 is a bit overkill though. I wonder if its going to turn out that this cop was the kid everyone picked on, and he finally went beserk.
Stupid. I would be surprised if this was anything other than a fluke case of a guy snapping from something. I mean, I don't think it was corruption by the department or anything, but this is just a really sad story.
CRANDON, Wis. (Oct. 8) - A young sheriff's deputy who opened fire on a pizza party and killed six people reportedly flew into a rage when he was rebuffed by his old girlfriend, and others at the gathering called him a "worthless pig."
A longtime friend told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday that 20-year-old Tyler Peterson came to his door in the hours after the rampage and calmly explained what he had done.
"He wasn't running around crazy or anything. He was very, very sorry for what he did," Mike Kegley told the newspaper, adding that he gave Peterson coffee and food and later called 911.
Peterson told Kegley that he had gone to his ex-girlfriend's house early Sunday morning in hopes of patching up the relationship after a recent breakup. But, he said, Peterson lost control when the meeting ended in an argument and other people started ridiculing him as a "worthless pig."
Kegley declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press.
Police, who declined to provide details of the argument, said Peterson stormed out, retrieved an AR-15 rifle from his car outside and burst back into the house firing 30 shots that killed all but one of the people at the party.
"We had no idea, obviously, that anything like this would ever occur," Crandon Police Chief John Dennee said at a news conference Monday.
Peterson, a deputy and part-time police officer, later died after exchanging gunfire with law enforcement officers. Whether Peterson was shot by police or took his own life was unclear.
The rampage raised questions in the remote northern Wisconsin community of 2,000 about how Peterson could have met requirements to become a law enforcement officer, especially after police acknowledged Monday that Peterson received no psychological screening before he was hired.
Some questioned the wisdom of hiring someone so young.
"No person that I've ever known at 20 years old was responsible enough to be a police officer," said Steve Bocek, of Oak Creek, whose nephew Bradley Schultz was killed. "It's unbelievable. You don't have the mind to be a police officer. It takes a lot."
But Crandon city attorney Lindsay Erickson said age doesn't matter as long as officers do their jobs well. Peterson testified for her in several cases. He wrote good reports and was "true to his job," she said.
"From what I saw of him, I didn't see any warning signs or red flags," Erickson said.
Peterson was hired as full-time deputy sheriff on Sept. 11, 2006, at the age of 19, according to personnel records released by the Forest County clerk. His yearlong probation ended last month.
Dr. Phil Trompetter, a police psychologist in Modesto, Calif., estimated at least 80 percent of states require psychological testing of prospective officers.
"Wisconsin must be in a very small minority of states," he said.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice Law Enforcement Standards Board requires only that applicants be free of any emotional or mental condition that might hinder them in their duties. It does not say how that is determined.
No formal national standards exist for hiring police, although individual states are adopting requirements such as mandatory psychological tests, said Craig Zendzian, author of several guidebooks for police applicants.
In Minnesota, for example, police officers must be licensed by the state Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training - a process that includes an evaluation by a licensed psychologist.
At the news conference, which gave the most detailed explanation yet of the shooting , the police chief said Peterson and the young woman had been in a relationship for a few years.
"They had broken up and gone back and forth," Dennee said.
After the attack, in phone conversations with the police chief and others, Peterson identified himself as the shooter, authorities said.
The rifle used in the shootings is the type used by the sheriff's department, but investigators had not confirmed whether the gun came from law enforcement.
The six young people killed in the rampage were either students or graduates of Crandon High School. They were at the house to share pizza and watch movies during the school's homecoming weekend. Classes were canceled Monday, and many teens went to a church to meet with counselors.
The other victims were identified as Jordanne Murray, who was believed to be the girlfriend; Katrina McCorkle; Leanna Thomas; Aaron Smith; and Lindsey Stahl. Autopsies were scheduled to be completed Monday, but results were not immediately available.
Schultz, 20, was a third-year criminal justice major at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who hoped to be a homicide detective. He was home visiting friends and appeared to have died trying to protect one.
"We still don't have many details, but from what they've told us, there was a girl next to him and he was covering her, protecting her," said an aunt, Sharon Pisarek, as she sobbed. "He was loved by everybody. He was everybody's son. Senseless."
The lone survivor, Charlie Neitzel, 21, of Pickerel, was upgraded to serious condition and was improving Monday at a hospital.
Pastor Bill Farr read a statement from Peterson's family in which relatives expressed their shock and sorrow.
"Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and their friends. We are grieving for your losses. We feel a tremendous amount of guilt and shame for the acts Tyler committed," it said.
It continued: "We may never receive the answers we all seek. Like those close to Tyler we are in shock and disbelief that he would do such terrible things. This was not the Tyler we knew and loved."