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In Deer Country, a Puzzling Shooting Spree

Six People Killed; Hunter Questioned

By Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 23, 2004; Page A02

RICE LAKE, Wis., Nov. 22 -- The survivors said the shooting was entirely unexpected. Hunters on private property had told Chai Soua Vang that he was trespassing and needed to leave the deer stand, where he had taken a position on Sunday morning with his SKS assault rifle.

Vang climbed down and walked about 40 yards. He took the scope off his rifle, turned and opened fire, Sawyer County Sheriff James Meier said Monday. One of the wounded men radioed for help. Others headed to the rescue, but Meier said Vang also opened fire on them, leaving five dead and three seriously wounded.


Emergency personnel gather Sunday near the scene in northern Wisconsin where a dispute among deer hunters apparently occurred. (Terrell Boettcher -- AP)

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Scenes, reports from the Wisconsin site where 5 killed.

"The rescuers, who also came under fire, checked bodies for signs of life," Meier said. "They grabbed who they could grab and got out of there because they were still under fire." They left the dead in the woods.

Vang, 36, ran out of bullets and fled, the sheriff said. He was captured several hours later when two hunters encountered him wandering lost. They took him to a game warden, who arrested him and remarked: "He was very calm. He didn't say anything." A sixth hunter died tonight. Shot in the abdomen, Denny Drew, 55, improved enough during the day to be flown by helicopter from Rice Lake to a trauma center in Marshfield, Wis., but he died soon after.

Vang, who is from St. Paul, in neighboring Minnesota, and has not been charged, is the sole suspect in an incident that has been met in deer country with bafflement and sorrow as much as outrage. People talked of being mystified that a dispute over a deer stand, not uncommon in the intensity of Wisconsin's brief hunting season, could become so bloody.

"It's just bizarre," said Mark Miller, who owns Fatman's Bar, where shooting victim Robert Crouteau -- killed with his 20-year-old son, Joey -- was a regular. "It's worse when you know them. I knew Bobby pretty good."

Police said Vang, a former soldier and member of the Hmong community in Minnesota, has been cooperative. They declined to say whether he offered his own version of events. Meier gave the following account to reporters:

Vang was hunting with companions near Birchwood in northern Wisconsin on Sunday, the second day of the state's nine-day deer season. He walked onto private property, owned by Crouteau, next to public land where his group may have intended to hunt.

Dressed in blaze-orange gear and camouflage, he climbed into a vacant deer stand. Terry Willers, walking with at least one friend, spotted Vang and used his walkie-talkie to radio back to his base camp and ask whether Vang had permission to be there. Told that Vang was trespassing, Willers radioed that he would ask him to leave.

Willers told Vang to go and was soon joined by two friends. There may have been a confrontation, although details remain unclear. Vang climbed down and started to walk away before turning and shooting. As Willers radioed for help, Vang opened fire on others.

"They keyed up the radio and said, 'I've been shot! Send some more help!' " Meier reported.

Vang emptied his 20-round clip within 15 minutes. He allegedly shot two people off their all-terrain vehicles, and chased others. Authorities have not said whether the other hunters fired back.

The rescuers managed to retrieve three wounded friends, put them on their four-wheelers and escape. Someone noted Vang's hunting license number and wrote it in the dust of an ATV. The number was relayed to authorities, who issued a bulletin as the survivors were taken to hospitals.

Vang waded deeper into the thick cover. "He was wandering aimlessly in the woods, lost," Meier said.


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