When the shooting rampage that shocked central Wisconsin last week was finally over, a lone gunman had killed four people across a cluster of three small towns, police said, and turned a bank, a law office and an apartment complex into devastating crime scenes.
At each location died community members who knew or had tried to protect the target of the alleged gunman’s rage – his 41-year-old estranged wife.
She was a longtime employee at Marathon Savings Bank in Rothschild, where two colleagues were killed. Her divorce lawyer, who was fatally shot, rented office space at the law firm in nearby Schofield. And a veteran police detective, working to apprehend the shooter, was gunned down at the suspect’s apartment complex in Weston.
The wife, according to police, escaped unharmed.
At a vigil Sunday night for the dead, a cold shower fell on hundreds of mourners who huddled under umbrellas and held candles. “This rain just hides the tears,” Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks said.
State and local law enforcement officials have been reluctant to release details of the shooting’s unfolding on Wednesday. They have not formally identified the alleged shooter or his target, but did say in a Wisconsin Department of Justice statement that the deadly day started with a domestic violence incident at the Marathon Savings Bank, a century-old and locally owned business.
The Associated Press, Wausau Daily Herald and other news outlets have identified the suspect as 45-year-old Nengmy Vang, citing “multiple people with knowledge of Vang’s involvement.”
Vang and his wife reportedly had been ensnared in nasty divorce proceedings for two years that included a paternity test, severe financial woes and a custody battle over the youngest of the couple’s six children. Vang’s older brother, Vajloogzeb Vaj, told the Associated Press that Vang had been acting “crazy” since the separation and had hit their mother during an angry outburst months before the shooting.
The case has rocked Marathon County, the site of the killings, as well as the county seat of Wausau, where Vang and his alleged victims were known in the community, casting a light on the ways in which domestic violence can quickly morph from a private to public affair.
And Vang’s Hmong ethnicity has reawakened racial tensions in Wisconsin, a state that houses one of the largest Hmong communities in the country but has struggled to welcome it for decades. Animosity has occasionally flared between the white population in northern Wisconsin and the Hmong, who are from Laos and immigrated after aiding the United States during the Vietnam War.
It’s a resentment so raw that the slain divorce attorney’s husband, Scott Sann, preemptively urged the Wausau community to not “get caught up in colors” after the attack.
“This person could’ve been any gender, any color, any religion and they could’ve acted in other ways of violence to make their point,” Scott Sann wrote on Facebook, the Associated Press reported. “Don’t get trapped in the details.”
Vaj told the Associated Press that the Hmong community will rally to help those affected by the shootings.
“I feel sorry for the families,” he said.
The Justice Department identified the four victims as Dianne Look, 67, and Karen Barclay, 62, both employees of Marathon Savings Bank; Sara Quirt Sann, a 43-year-old attorney and lifelong Wausau resident; and 40- year-old Everest Metropolitan Police Department Detective Jason T. Weiland, an 18-year law enforcement veteran.
“It’s a huge shock,” Bert Nitzke with the South Area Fire Department told Fox 6 at the vigil Sunday. “It’s people that we know. It’s a small community.”
The vigil was organized by four friends in the Wausau area who had no personal connection to the victims, and yet felt personally affected by the tragedy, reported the Wausau Daily Herald.
Ribbons in three colors symbolized the shooting victims; blue for Weiland, pink for Sann and red for Look and Barclay, to show “the protection gave to the wife of the suspect,” Nitzke told Fox 46.
According to a timeline assembled by the Wausau Daily Herald, the shooting began at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, when authorities responded to a report of a domestic situation at the bank in Rothschild. Thirty minutes later, there was another call that shots had been fired. Police arrived at the bank and found two people injured from gunshot wounds. The suspect had fled.
At 1:10 p.m., shots were reported two miles away at the Tlusty, Kennedy and Dirks law office in the neighboring town of Schofield, where Sann rented office space. Then 20 minutes later, police were called five miles away to the Aspen Street Apartments in Weston, where court records show that Vang resides, the Wausau Daily Herald reported.
Shots had been fired there, too. Weiland, the police detective, was fatally shot while trying to secure a perimeter around the apartment that Vang had barricaded himself inside, authorities said.
Local schools and a hospital were locked down during a standoff that lasted well into the evening, when Vang was wounded in a shootout and taken into custody. Authorities told the Wausau Daily Herald he remains in police custody at an undisclosed hospital and requires “intense medical care.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Katie Mettler