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Gunman kills seven, then himself at church meeting

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA
Mar. 12, 2005
Crocker Stephenson • Saturday March 12, 2005

8 dead, 4 wounded as New Berlin man opens fire in church meeting at Brookfield hotel

A man neighbors described as quiet and devout opened fire Saturday on a group of men, women and children attending a weekly church service at a Brookfield hotel, killing eight people – including himself – and seriously wounding four others.

“He planned to shoot us all,” said Chandra Frazier, a 31-year-old woman attending the Living Church of God gathering.

Frazier said some 80 members of the church, which has been holding services at the Sheraton Hotel, 375 S. Moorland Road, for years, came from Illinois and Wisconsin. They were planning to hold a fashion show and a pot luck dinner Saturday and were in high spirits.

Although there was no known motive, Frazier said the man believed responsible for the shootings, Terry Ratzmann, 44, of New Berlin, was suffering from depression and was upset about a taped sermon he had heard a couple of weeks before by one the church’s chief evangelists, Roderick C. Meredith.

“He was always a peculiar guy,” she said. “But I never pegged him for a murderer.”

Frazier had arrived at the service about eight minutes late. She took a seat in the third row from the back and was looking through her Bible and at some notes when she heard a series of loud pops.

“I jumped out of my seat, and I was like, ‘Oh, Lord!’ “

Frazier’s 61-year-old mother, Ella Frazier, said the shots came from the back of the room.

“It sounded like an echo, like an explosion,” Ella Frazier said.

“Someone said, ‘It’s for real.’ We hit the floor and we kept hearing shots.”

Some people sought cover, others attempted to protect loved ones. One man, Chandra Frazier said, yelled “Terry, stop! Think about what you’re doing!”

Ratzmann, armed with a handgun, paused at least once to reload. Chandra Frazier said she dove beneath the chair of a man who was then shot.

“There were so many shots,” she said. “Everybody was screaming. It was mayhem.”

Then, the shooting came to an abrupt ending.

“I just remember silence after that,” she said. “After that last bullet, it was dead silence.”

Gunman acted alone

Besides Ratzmann, four of the victims died at the hotel. According to several church members, they were:

• James Gregory, 17, of Gurnee, Ill., son of the church’s pastor.

• Harold Diekmeier, 74, of Delafield.

• Gloria Critari, 55, of Cudahy.

• Bart Oliver, 15, of Waukesha.

Three others died at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.

According to church members, those victims were:

• Randy L. Gregory, 50, of Gurnee, Ill., the regional pastor of the Living Church of God.

• Richard Reeves, 58, of Cudahy.

• A 44-year-old man from Hartford.

Three survivors are females, ages 10, 20 and 52. The fourth is a 20-year-old-man.

A Froedtert spokeswoman said late Saturday that two victims were in satisfactory condition, one in critical. Another victim was taken to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, police said, though a hospital spokeswoman would not confirm that any of the victims were there. It is one of the worst mass murders in state history, and the second fatal hotel shooting in less than a year. Two guests were killed at an Oak Creek hotel in November.

“It’s heartbreaking, it’s overwhelming. It’s human carnage,” Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher said after visiting the scene late Saturday afternoon.

Police said the gunman acted alone.

“There is nobody else being sought at this time as a suspect,” said Daniel Tushaus, chief of the Brookfield Police Department.

Suspect lived with mother

Ratzmann, 44, lived with his mother and sister in New Berlin. Neighbors said Ratzmann was a devoted member of the church.

Ratzmann’s silver pickup truck was towed away from the hotel hours after the shooting. New Berlin police closed down Ratzmann’s neighborhood while investigators searched his house.

New Berlin mayor Ted Wysocki said officers from his city had been called in to help after the shooting.

“We’re doing an investigation at the behest of the Brookfield Police Department,” Wysocki said. “They told us that there is potential of a suspect in New Berlin.”

Neighbors in the wooded subdivision said that they hadn’t seen much of Ratzmann.

Joe Blasczyk, 30, who grew up in neighborhood, said Ratzmann “was the loner type. He just kind of gave you a weird gaze.”

Neighbor Victor Seidl, who has lived near Ratzmann for almost 30 years, said Ratzmann “kind of kept to himself.”

“They did their thing and we did our thing,” Seidl said

Brookfield police received reports of shots fired at the hotel at 12:51 p.m., Tushaus said. A stream of ambulances from several agencies raced to the hotel and removed victims.

Froedtert physician Charles Cady, who treated three of the victims, said that six of them arrived at the hospital within a span of minutes. About 25 physicians, nurses and others were on hand to provide care.

“This did test our system and take us, I think, close to our limits,” he said.

Surreal scene at hotel

The hotel took on a surreal quality in the shooting’s aftermath.

Families with young hockey players, in town for a tournament, milled about in the lobby. Many of the kids ran and splashed at the swimming pool. The Catholic Knights held their regional conference, capped with a Mass in one of the conference rooms, and a lunch. Down the hall, cordoned off, were the bodies of the slain.

Shoppers and other curious people filled the parking lot for a view of the crime scene. Some stopped by to drop off flowers. One woman arrived with sandwiches and hot drinks for those keeping watch.

Bridget Healy, 7, from Chicago, had just left her hotel room with her brother, Liam, 9, when they heard a woman scream to call 911. The girl said she ran and told her mother.

“She was pretty shaken up,” said Bridget’s mother, Janet.

Carol Schuster, an employee of Catholic Knights, said the organization was in the middle of its lunch when hotel employees came in to tell them what had happened. After a moment of silence, the meeting continued.

Police originally roped off the hotel, not allowing anyone but police officials to come and go from the building. But, after about an hour, the ropes were removed from all but the back of the hotel, and people began coming and going freely. One man, presumably unaware of the drama inside, approached the desk clerk and asked if they had any weekend specials available.

Some guests remained locked in their rooms after police surrounded the building and would not allow anyone to enter or leave.

Karen Suick, 48, said she arrived at the hotel Friday night with 15 players and parents for a hockey tournament.

“One of our hockey dad’s two daughters are still in there,” she said. “They called his cell phone. They were OK, but they were told to go back to their room. So that’s what they did.”

Some family members held nervous vigil in their cars in the hours after the shooting. Two sisters, one from Okauchee and the other from Racine, waited patiently for their family members. The Okauchee woman had a 14-year-old daughter inside. The Racine woman was waiting for her husband and father-in-law.

They said they had just dropped off their family members and had gone shopping at nearby Brookfield Square when they got a cell phone call from the Racine woman’s husband saying that there had been a shooting. By late afternoon, passersby had begun a memorial next to the hotel. Flowers, a foam plastic cross and some stuffed animals were placed on a snowbank near a tree.

Around 6 p.m. many of the church members present at the shooting were being allowed to leave after being interviewed by investigators. One group, who declined to speak to reporters, included a young girl, about 7 years old, wearing white high-heeled shoes, an older woman with a walker, and man who looked to be about 70 years old.

During his afternoon news conference, Tushaus said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this crime.”

Six hours later, the police tape came down, but the prayers continued.

Journal Sentinel reporters Meg Kissinger, Lisa Sink, Rick Romell, Graeme Zielinski, Marie Rohde, Dave Umhoefer, David Doege, Reid J. Epstein, Scott Williams, Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Nahal Toosi, Kelly Wells and Derrick Nunnally contributed to this report.

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