- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

BIRCHWOOD (AP) — As several deer hunters made their way through the woods of northern Wisconsin, they were startled to come upon a stranger in their tree stand. But what happened next was even more astonishing.

Asked to leave, the trespasser, wearing blaze-orange and carrying a semiautomatic assault rifle, opened fire on the hunters and didn’t stop until his 20-round clip was empty, leaving five persons dead and three wounded, authorities said. One of the injured hunters died yesterday.

“This is an incredible tragedy, one in which a great family tradition like a deer hunt has turned into such a great loss,” Gov. James E. Doyle, a Democrat, said yesterday.

Police identified the shooter as Chai Vang, 36, a hunter from St. Paul, Minn., who is a member of the Twin Cities’ Hmong community. While authorities say they do not know why he opened fire, there have been previous clashes between Asian and white hunters in the region.

Locals have complained that the Hmong, refugees from Laos, do not understand the concept of private property and hunt wherever they see fit.

The five killed and three wounded were part of a group of 14 or 15 who had made their opening-weekend trip to Robert Crotteau’s 400-acre property an annual tradition.

Killed Sunday were Mr. Crotteau, 42; his son Joey, 20; Al Laski, 43; Mark Roidt, 28; and Jessica Willers, 27. Denny Drew, 55, died yesterday, and two others remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds.

The visit was like any other until around noon Sunday. When two or three hunters spotted a man in their hunting platform in a tree on Mr. Crotteau’s land, they radioed back to the rest of the party at a cabin nearby, and asked who should be there.

“The answer was, nobody should be in the deer stand,” Sawyer County Sheriff James Meier said.

One of the men approached the intruder and asked him to leave, as Mr. Crotteau and the others in the cabin hopped on their all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and headed to the scene.

“The suspect got down from the deer stand, walked 40 yards, fiddled with his rifle. He took the scope off his rifle, he turned and he opened fire on the group,” Sheriff Meier said.

One of the men who was shot called for help on his radio, but it was too late. The gunman fired again, hitting the people who had just arrived on ATVs.

The gunman was “chasing after them and killing them,” Sawyer County Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle said. “He hunted them down.”

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