A Minneapolis hunter, Chai Soua Vang, was asked to leave a deer stand located on private property in Wisconsin. The situation escalated, and Vang opened fire on the property owner and his hunting guests, killing six and wounding two others.
It was November 21, 2004, just one day after deer season opened in rural Sawyer County, where deer hunting is a way of life for hundreds of local sportsmen.
Vang, a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, is a Hmong American from Laos. He became lost while hunting in the area and asked two hunters for directions. He ended up on 400 acres of private property and climbed up on a deer stand he found there.
According to investigators, Terry Willers, co-owner of the land, rode by the site and saw someone in the deer stand. He radioed back to the hunting cabin where he and 14 others were staying, asking who was in the stand and was told that no one was supposed to be in it.
Willers said he would ask the hunter to leave the stand. Others from the private party drove their ATVs to the scene.
When told to leave the deer stand, Vang complied and began to walk away from the scene. As he walked away, five members of the hunting party, including Bob Crotteau, who co-owned the property with Willers, confronted Vang. Someone in the private party wrote down Vang's out-of-state hunting license number-correctly posted on Vang's back-in the dust on his ATV.
According to survivors of the incident, Vang walked about 40 yards away from the party, took the scope off his Chinese style SKS semi-automatic rifle, turned and began to fire at the private party. Three of the hunters were shot in the initial burst of fire including Willers who was the only other man in the group who was carrying a gun.
Rescuers Shot At
Someone in the hunting party radioed back to the cabin and said they were under fire. According to Sawyer County Sheriff Jim Meier, as others from the cabin arrived at the scene, unarmed, to try to rescue the wounded hunters, they too were shot. Some of the victims had multiple gunshot wounds.
Vang fled the scene and became lost again. Two hunters, who were unaware of the shooting incident, walked him out of the woods. As they left the woods, five hours after the shooting, a Department of Natural Resources officer recognized the hunting license number on Vang's back and took him into custody. Vang was held in the Sawyer County Jail. His bail was set at $2.5 million.
Killed in the incident were Robert Crotteau, 42; his son Joey, 20; Al Laski, 43; Mark Roidt, 28; and Jessica Willers, 27, the daughter of Terry Willers. Dennis Drew died of his wounds the following night. Terry Willers and Lauren Hesebeck survived their gunshot wounds.
Vang 'Calm' After Shootings
According to Sheriff Meier, Vang is a U.S. military veteran and a naturalized citizen originally from Laos. Meier also said Vang appeared to be mentally stable.
Meier said in a press conference that Vang remained remarkably calm and had not confessed to shooting anybody. He described the suspect's calm as "frightening."
Shooting Was in Self-Defense
Vang's version of the events that took place before the shooting began differed from what the members of the surviving hunting party reported. According to Vang, Terry Willers shot at him first, from about 100 feet away. Vang began shooting in self-defense.
Vang also claimed that race was a factor and testified that, during the verbal exchange, some of the hunters made racial slurs, calling Vang a "chink" and "gook."
The trial took place on September 10, 2005, in Sawyer County Courthouse. The jury was selected from Dane County, Wisconsin, and bused 280 miles to Sawyer County, where they were sequestered.
During Vang's testimony, he told the jury that he had feared for his life, and did not begin shooting until the first hunter shot at him. He said that he continued to shoot at the hunters that approached him, sometimes multiple times and sometimes in the back.
Vang said that he shot two of the hunters because they were disrespectful. He also said that, while he wished it had not happened, (referring to the shootings), three of the hunters did deserve to die.
The defense showed inconsistencies in the statements given by the two survivors.
Lauren Hesebeck admitted that he had previously told his wife that he thought Terry Willers returned fire. Willers said he never shot at Vang. Hesebeck also reluctantly admitted that he had previously stated that Vang was "lambasted" with profanity and at one point Joey Crotteau blocked Vang from leaving.
Vang's attorney attempted to clarify Vang's statement that three of the men deserved to die, saying that it was due to a language barrier and what Vang meant was that the three men's behavior contributed to the situation that led to their deaths.
Verdict and Sentencing
On Sept. 16, 2005, the jury deliberated for three and a half hours before returning a verdict of guilty of all charges - six charges of first-degree homicide and three charges of attempted homicide.
The following November he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years.
Chai Soua Vang was 36 years old at the time of the shootings. He is the father of six children.