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Police Provide Details in Wisconsin Church Group Shooting

The New York Times, USA
Mar. 13, 2005
Christine Hauser • Sunday March 13, 2005

The police in Wisconsin said today that the gunman who fatally shot seven people and wounded four at an Evangelical church meeting on Saturday had entered from the back of the room and opened fire without warning, squeezing off about 22 rounds and stopping to reload once before shooting himself in the head.

Chief Daniel Tushaus of the Brookfield Police Department, speaking at a news conference, was announcing details of the shooting that investigators have so far pieced together from interviewing 50 to 60 witnesses. He identified the gunman as Terry Ratzmann, 44, of New Berlin, Wis., but did not provide names of any of the victims.

Chief Tushaus said that investigators were still collecting evidence from the scene of the crime, which took place at a hotel, but that there was no evidence to lead the police to believe there was an organized plan or that there were other suspects. Nor has there been any note to explain the suspect’s actions.

“We have no clear motive,” Chief Tushaus said.

The suspect was dead by the time officers arrived at the scene of the shooting, at a suburban Milwaukee hotel where members of the Living Church of God were gathered.

The authorities said on Saturday that the gunman was affiliated with the Living Church of God, which has met on Saturday mornings at the hotel, the 389-room Sheraton, for four or five years. The chief said the victims were two teenage boys, a 72-year-old man and three men and a woman ages 44 to 58.

“I am asking myself why am I still alive,” Chandra Frazier, who was in the room when the gunfire began, told reporters outside the hotel on Saturday. “I dove under a chair. The man whose chair I dove under died.”

Ms. Frazier, 21, said the gunman stopped to reload at one point and then resumed shooting. “There was one gentleman that told him to please stop and think about it,” she said, adding, “The people who died were very nice people.”

On Saturday, several squads of detectives, along with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, swarmed the New Berlin home where Mr. Ratzmann, a church member, lived with his mother and sister.

Neighbors said Mr. Ratzmann was a computer programmer and prolific gardener who mostly kept to himself but dressed in a tie, jacket and dress pants every Saturday for church. “He’s a normal Joe, you know, he’s the guy that you’d never suspect to have done this,” said Shane Colwell, who lives across the alley from the Ratzmanns. “I don’t want his mother thinking that she’s raised a lunatic that she should have known was going to do this.”

Mr. Colwell said that Mr. Ratzmann had built a garage, a greenhouse and a filtration system that collected rainwater for fish tanks where he raised trout and that he took his Toyota pickup truck on camping trips to “listen to the coyotes under the moonlight,” but did not hunt.

“He said he never even shot a thing in his life,” Mr. Colwell said. “The guy caught bunny rabbits in a humane trap and drove 20 miles to release them, because he didn’t want to kill them.”

Chief Tushaus identified the weapon as a handgun.

Living Church of God

“The Living Church of God is a new organization with an old history. Its leader, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith, was one of the original evangelists ordained by the late Herbert W. Armstrong in December 1952. [...] Church members today view themselves as the spiritual heirs of the original Jerusalem Church of New Testament time.”

The Living Church of God, according to its Web site, is “a new organization with an old history,” led by Dr. Roderick C. Meredith, who was ordained in 1952. Its 200 congregations observe Saturday as the true Christian Sabbath – Mr. Colwell said Mr. Ratzmann refused to attend his wedding because it was on the Sabbath – and “members today view themselves as the spiritual heirs of the original Jerusalem Church of New Testament time,” the Web site says.

The church’s mission statement includes “preach the end-time prophecies and the Ezekiel warning, particularly to the ‘Israelitish’ peoples”; “learn and practice servant leadership in all our dealings with others”; and “build an atmosphere of radiant faith within God’s Church.” The goal, the site says, is to “restore Apostolic Christianity, and all that this implies.”

At least two church groups were meeting at the hotel at the time of the shooting, the police said.

Daniel Friz, who pastors a Living Church of God congregation in Lansing, Mich., and went to school with the Milwaukee pastor, Randy Gregory, whom he feared to be among the dead, said church members across the country were shocked and saddened and scrambling for news about the shooting victims. “Unfortunately, so many of these things happen right now in America, from churches to schools to courts,” Mr. Friz said in a telephone interview, referring to the fatal rampage on Friday at a courthouse in Atlanta. “I’m just sad right now. I was saddened by what happened in Atlanta; I’m sad now.”

Daniel I. Dorfman contributed reporting from Brookfield for this article and Jodi Wilgoren contributed from Chicago.

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