November 26, 2004

Wis. Town Grieves for Slain Deer Hunters

RICE LAKE, Wis. - In a close-knit town where many families gather this time of year to hunt deer, residents instead are attending funerals for six hunters shot and killed in Wisconsin's northwoods.

Blaze-orange ribbons tied around the lampposts along Rice Lake's Main Street pay tribute to the hunters, as do bows adorning some business signs and car antennas in this northwestern Wisconsin town of about 8,500.

The deaths have saddened virtually the entire community, said Bob Stanonik, who was selling Christmas trees Friday on Main Street as 100 to 200 people gathered at a church for the first funeral.

"There's nobody that's not touched in town," he said.

Authorities said the six were killed and two others wounded after a confrontation with a hunter who was trespassing on private land. Chai Vang, 36, of St. Paul, Minn., remained in the Sawyer County Jail in lieu of $2.5 million bail pending formal charges.

Three Milwaukee attorneys said Friday that Vang had retained them to represent him. Steven Kohn, Jonathan Smith and James Mentkowski planned to speak to the media about the case Sunday.

At a snowy cemetery Friday outside Rice Lake, small groups of people hugged after the funeral service for Mark Roidt, 28, of Rice Lake - the first funeral held for a victim of Sunday's shooting.

Jodi Anderson, a cook at an area restaurant, Dobie's BWR, where Roidt often ate meals, said the deaths have left many in the community speechless.

"I'm very angry. This is so wrong," she said.

Visitations for three other victims were scheduled for later in the day and the remaining funerals for Saturday or Monday.

Friends described Roidt as an outgoing man who loved hunting, motorcycling and other motor sports and was a jack-of-all-trades in carpentry and construction work.

Many at the funeral wore orange ribbons on their coats. The mourners included friends who knew Roidt through his car-racing hobby and people who drove for hours to attend the service.

A Roidt family friend, Pat Malesa of Presque Isle, said the victim's mother, Karen Roidt, told mourners that at least her son died doing something he loved. Many in the area consider the deer hunting season, which ends Sunday night, a holiday.

"The hunting week up here is called holy week," Stanonik said. "Families get together, father, son, grandson."

Many in Rice Lake were born and raised there, go to the same churches and like the same hobbies such as hunting and bowling, Stanonik said.

Burnell Hanson of Rice Lake, who employed Roidt for a few months doing some carpentry work, said the town now just needs time to heal. Some hunters he knows did not return to the woods after the shootings.

"Unfortunately these guys ran into a bad apple," Hanson said after the funeral, which was closed to reporters.

Court records show Vang, a Hmong immigrant, told authorities the others surrounded him and used racial slurs before one fired a shot at him. One of the survivors gave a different account, saying Vang started shooting first.

The town seems to have banded together after the shootings, said Denise Warner, who drove from Sheboygan for the funeral. She was staying overnight at a Rice Lake golf resort, which was letting out-of-town mourners stay there for free.

Orlen Eidahl of Rice Lake doesn't think the shootings will keep people from the hobby they love.

"We all are saddened, but things will go on," he said.

The other funerals planned are: father and son Robert and Joey Crotteau Saturday at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Rice Lake; Allan Laski Saturday at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Haugen; Dennis Drew Monday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church; and Jessica Willers Monday at St. Joseph's.

Willers' father, Terry Willers, was released from the hospital late Wednesday after suffering gunshot wounds to the neck and shoulder in the shooting spree. Lauren Hesebeck was released from the hospital Tuesday after treatment of his wounds.