Teen fatally shot in apparent hunting mishap

By Dean
Bortz
Editor

La Crosse, Wis. (AP) — Seth Hammes, 17, of La Crosse, was
videotaping wildlife from a tree stand in Monroe County when he was
allegedly shot twice with a .22 by Russell Robert Schroeder III,
24, who was trespassing at the time, officials said.

Hammes’ video camera apparently continued running after he fell
from the tree stand and captured Schroeder’s voice on tape.
According to news reports and investigators, Schroeder told Hammes
he had a cell phone and would go get help, but he left Hammes lying
fatally wounded in the woods and did not return.

Later, Schroeder told investigators he went to a birthday party,
and then went home to play video games before going to work.

Monroe County authorities said it was Schroeder’s voice on the
videotape that led them to charge the 24-year-old with first-degree
reckless homicide and first-degree reckless injury in the Sept. 24
shooting death of Hammes.

Schroeder said nothing during the 10 minutes he sat in Monroe
County Circuit Court Judge Steven Abbott’s courtroom Tuesday, Sept.
27.

Hammes was unarmed and videotaping the woods near Little Falls
where his family and friends planned to bowhunt this season, when
he was shot twice on Sept. 24 between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.,
according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday. DNR warden
supervisor Bill Yearman, of Eau Claire, said Hammes had permission
to be on the property.

The camera continued recording as the 17-year-old Logan High
School senior lay wounded in the woods, crying out in pain.

Schroeder, who lives on adjacent land but was trespassing on
private property when the shooting occurred, told authorities he
saw movement and fired his .22-caliber rifle, then lost track of
what he had seen and fired a second shot.

He thought he was shooting at an animal until he heard Hammes
scream. Schroeder then went to the wounded teen and told him he had
a cell phone and would call for help, according to the
complaint.

But he never made that call, according to Monroe County district
attorney Dan Cary. Instead, Schroeder went back to a birthday party
he had attended earlier in the day, went home to play video games,
and then went to work at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, according
to the complaint.

Schroeder told authorities he didn’t call 911 because he was
scared he would get in trouble for what he did, according to the
complaint.

Monroe County Sheriff Peter Quirin said the man confessed to the
shooting when he was questioned at the sheriff’s office.

“This could have been an accident,” Quirin said. “The homicide
charge comes from the fact that (the man) did not report it and did
not render help.”

Family and friends of Hammes called authorities at 8:05 p.m.
Sept. 24 when they couldn’t find the teenager. With the help of
search dogs, Monroe County Sheriff’s Department detective Jeff
Sullivan said they found Hammes slumped against a tree between 9:30
p.m. and 10 p.m., with little visible bleeding. When they viewed
the video – which contained mainly audio sounds and few images –
Hammes was heard saying he had been shot in the side.

“It was pretty eerie,” Sullivan said.

“It’s pretty obvious he’s in pain, and he goes into shock pretty
quickly,” Cary said. “There is just a brief discussion with the
defendant about getting help.”

Medical examiner Toni Eddy-Ballman said preliminary autopsy
results revealed one bullet entered Hammes’ shoulder, clipped a
lung, and punctured an artery, leading to massive internal
bleeding. The other bullet passed through Hammes’ side, grazed his
pelvis and perforated his bladder. Both shots were fired while
Hammes was alive.

Eddy-Ballman was not sure if immediate medical help would have
saved Hammes, but said assistance could have given him a chance for
survival.

Tears coursed down the cheeks of family and friends of Hammes
who were in court on Sept. 27, and small gasps were heard as
specifics of the Sept. 24 shooting were presented.

Abbott set bond at $250,000. In asking for a high bond, Cary
said Schroeder recently took a hunter safety course that included
how to handle emergency situations. He has only lived in the area a
year and had no family, making him a flight risk, Cary added.

Public defender Patricia O’Neil argued for a lower amount,
pointing out Schroeder’s fiance lives in the area, he has a job as
a Fort McCoy custodian, and has cooperated with authorities.

“What Mr. Cary has described is a tragic accident that has now
been made into a crime,” O’Neil said. “(Schroeder) shot at what he
thought was a squirrel with a .22-caliber rifle, the appropriate
gun for that animal. The fact that he hit a human being … is tragic
but it’s still an accident.”

Hammes’ funeral was Thursday, Sept. 29 at Blessed Sacrament
Catholic Church in La Crosse.

Hammes was the grandson of retired DNR conservation warden David
Hammes, who worked as a field warden in the La Crosse area.

Yearman said the DNR is working with Monroe County investigators
to try to reconstruct the incident.

“They (investigators) are still trying to evaluate everything,
looking at the evidence, gathering statements,” Yearman said.
“Trespassing was involved, they’re investigating that also. This
was not a situation where there was a confrontation. Thing people
can’t understand, from a hunter safety perspective, is why anyone
would point a gun at … where they haven’t identified a target.
There is no reason in the world to be shooting at a sound or a
movement.”

Yearman said the incident is being considered a hunting accident
at this point, unless the investigation at some point were to prove
otherwise.

Wisconsin Outdoor News editor Dean Bortz contributed to this
report.

Categories: News Archive

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