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Suspect in hunter killings says he was shot at first

Six dead, two wounded after dispute on private property

Brent Good, a friend of one of the slain hunters, lights candles during a vigil Monday in Birchwood, Wisconsin.
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CNN's Keith Oppenheim reports on the shooting suspect.

Lawman reacts to slayings: "This is completely nuts."

HAYWARD, Wisconsin (CNN) -- The suspect in the shooting deaths of six deer hunters in northwest Wisconsin told investigators he fired at the hunters after they made racial slurs and shot at him, according to an affidavit released Tuesday.

The suspect -- 36-year-old Chai Vang of St. Paul, Minnesota -- was jailed on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, with bail set at $2.5 million.

Sawyer County Sheriff James Meier said the shootings were prompted by a dispute over a tree stand -- used by hunters waiting for game -- on the first weekend of Wisconsin's deer hunting season.

But Vang told Sawyer County sheriff's investigator Gary Gillis that the shootings didn't come about solely because of his use of the tree stand, which was on private property.

Five members of the hunting party -- Robert Crotteau, 42, and his son, Joey Crotteau, 20; Al Laski, 43; Mark Roidt, 28; and Jessica Willers, 27 -- were found dead on the scene. The sixth, 55-year-old Denny Drew, died Monday evening at a hospital in Marshfield.

Jessica Willers' father, Terry Willers, and another hunter, Lauren Hesebeck, were wounded but survived.

In an arrest affidavit, Gillis said Vang told him he mistakenly wandered onto the 400-acre property co-owned by Willers and Crotteau. Vang told investigators he didn't know he was on private property and did not see any "no trespassing signs."

Gillis said Willers spotted Vang in the deer stand and ordered him to leave the property, then used a walkie-talkie to notify the rest of the hunting party at a nearby cabin.

In the same affidavit, Gillis quotes Hesebeck as saying Vang walked away from the group after exchanging words with someone. Vang got 40 yards away, removed the scope from his rifle, turned and began shooting, in some cases pursuing the hunters when they ran away, Hesebeck said.

Hesebeck said Willers shot back before being wounded himself.

But Gillis said that according to Vang's version of events, the suspect had started to walk away as the group of hunters summoned by the first man surrounded him, and one of the men began to call him names. After he was 100 feet away, Vang said, he saw one of the men, who had a rifle, take it off his shoulder. Vang said the man shot at him but missed.

Vang said he then removed the scope from his rifle and began shooting, according to Gillis. One of the hunters was shouting, "help me, help me," but Vang said he chased him and shot him in the back.

Vang said he also saw hunters coming toward him in an all-terrain vehicle, one of them carrying a rifle. Vang said he shot at them and both men fell off the vehicle.

Vang said when he returned to the site where the shootings began, he saw one of the men still standing.

"You're not dead yet?" Vang said he asked the man. He then shot in the man's direction but doesn't know if the man was hit.

Gillis said only one rifle was found at the scene, near Roidt's body. However, Vang said the hunters had several guns.

Vang came to the United States from Laos in 1980 and became a U.S. citizen. The married father of six is a truck driver in St. Paul.

He had no criminal record in the United States except for a domestic incident three years ago in which he allegedly waved a handgun at his wife, who later declined to press charges against him, the sheriff's office said.

Some of those killed had multiple gunshot wounds. The shooter used an SKS 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle, a variant of the AK-47, the sheriff's office said. That type of rifle is common among hunters.

Two bodies were found near each other, and the others were found over a 100-yard area, Meier said.

After the shootings, Vang got a ride with another hunter not connected with the incident. He was taken into custody as he emerged from the woods.

The killings stunned Exeland, a village of 219 people about 135 miles northeast of Minneapolis.

Barron County Sheriff Tom Richie said the victims were "well-known, well-respected members of the community."

The six people who died were from the Rice Lake area near Birchwood. The Rice Lake Hunters Survivors and Victims Fund has been created to help their families.

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