Sixth person dies from Sawyer County shootings

It is not clear whether the member of the hunting group who was
armed was able to fire at Vang. Bartz said it is believed that a
couple of shot were fired, but he did not know by whom, or at what
point in the incident.

“It’s not clear on how emergency personnel were notified,” Bartz
said. “There was one cell phone, but coverage was poor. Apparently
one person did get a signal and attempted to call 911.” Bartz said
members of the hunting party who were not injured also started
transporting wounded hunters to the hospital and were able to get
cell coverage at some point. They were met by Birchwood First
Responders, who had communication abilities.

The cabin can only be reached by a poorer woods road that can
only be traversed by four-wheel drive vehicles. Later in the day,
DNR wardens used their trucks to ferry in local investigators and
members of the Department of Justice crime lab from Wausau.

Law enforcement officers set up a perimeter around the entire
area, with officers from multiple jurisdictions involved. Sheriff’s
departments from Sawyer, Barron, Washburn, and Rusk counties were
involved, as were 13 DNR conservation wardens, Wisconsin State
Patrol officers, Lac Courte Oreille Indian Reservation game
wardens, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission game
wardens, and members of local police departments.

Some officers closed the perimeter while others went into the
area to search for Vang while also looking for witnesses and
evidence. They also talked to other hunters and suggested they
leave, once it was confirmed they were not linked to Vang.

Most news reports have said that Vang became lost in the woods
before and after the shootings and was apprehended when he came out
of the woods after dark on the back of an ATV driven by a hunter
who was not aware of what had occurred. However, Bartz said that
DNR conservation warden Jeremy Peery, who apprehended Vang, had
talked to the ATV operator. That hunter said that when he found
Vang and offered him a ride, Vang wanted him to go in a different
direction.

“The driver said, No, if you want to get out, we have to go this
way.’ It’s probably a good thing, at that point, that he (Vang) was
out of ammunition,” Bartz said.

Vang accepted the ride. When the ATV reached the road, the
operator must have seen Peery and drove over to him, and said,
“This guy is lost. Can you help him?”

Bartz said Peery turned on his flashlight, saw that Vang fit the
description of the suspect, checked his identification, then took
him into custody.

“It’s fortunate that, early on, the landowners had gotten the
backtag number. We were able to identify him and vehicles
registered to him, where he lived, and that proved to be valuable
information,” Bartz said. “As horrible as this whole thing was, I
was relieved that it ended as it did. We did not have another
shoot-out, (the suspect) did not shoot himself, nor did he slip out
of there.”

Vang had with him an SKS semi-automatic rifle chambered in
7.62×39 mm, which Bartz described as being similar in ballistics to
a .30-30.

Bartz worked on the scene, which he described as being very
disturbing. He said Barron County Sheriff Tom Ritchie knew most of
the members of the hunting party, who were from the Ladysmith area,
the county seat of Barron County. Bartz said Ritchie did a good job
with the difficult task of talking to family members and getting
them to safety.

The Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department requested that Department
of Justice (DOJ) crime scene investigators come in from Wausau.
That team did what forensic work they could that night, then
finished the next day.

“We were taking measurements, trying to figure out what
happened. We recovered physical evidence, including slugs and
casings from firearms. The witnesses who survived said there was
just one shooter,” Bartz said.

DNR pilots flew fixed-wing aircraft during Sunday’s search. The
Minnesota State Patrol sent over a helicopter fitted with an
infrared device for a night search, but the suspect was taken into
custody just as the helicopter arrived. DNR pilots went back up the
next morning to shoot aerial photos of the area for the DOJ crime
team.

The Wisconsin DOJ Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) is
assisting in the investigation of the shooting deaths and injuries.
The DOJ anticipated a letter from the Sawyer County district
attorney asking DOJ to handle the prosecution, which DOJ has agreed
to do.

“In light of the severity of this offense, the Department of
Justice will commit all necessary resources toward the successful
investigation and prosecution of this matter,” said Attorney
General Peg Lautenschlager.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle attended a press conference by Sawyer
County Sheriff James Meier in Hayward on the afternoon of Nov. 22,
then visited the wounded camp members.

Meier said that Vang methodically pursued his victims, noting
that the bodies of four of the five who died were found relatively
close together, but spread out over about 100 yards of area.

“It makes no sense,” the sheriff said. Vang, he said, “speaks
fluent English. He’s educated. He’s an American citizen.”

Vang’s younger brother arrived in Hayward on Monday with hopes
of getting in to see his jailed sibling. Sang Vang, 32, said his
36-year-old brother was an occasional hunter and he couldn’t
believe he could be involved in such a violent outburst.

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