In Wisconsin we have a large population of people from Laos, who are of the Hmong heritage. I have gone to school with, worked with, interacted with many people who are Hmong and I have always found the people to be nice, respectful, and friendly. So, when this case occurred it was a shock. I share with you now the case of Chai Vang.
Chai Soua Vang was born September 1968 in Laos, and his father assisted in disrupting the supply lines during the Vietnam War. In 1972, the US withdrew troops and many Hmong escaped Laos before the Hmong genocide that followed. Thousands escaped but thousands didn’t, and they were exterminated.
In 1980, Chai and his siblings settled in California and eventually he joined the California National Guard from 1989 to 1995. He earned a sharpshooter qualification badge and received a Good Conduct medal.
Around 2000, Chai and his family moved to St. Paul, MN, his wife Xiong and he have 7 children and he is also the shaman of his family and a hunting enthusiast.
On Christmas Eve, 2001, a 911 call was placed from Chai’s home and according to his daughter Kia, her parents were quarreling. Chai wanted to go out, but his wife did not want him to leave. Kia remembered seeing her father with a gun. Chai was arrested but charges were never filed as Xiong did not cooperate with investigators. A few months later Xiong left with the couple’s five children and went to live in Milwaukee with her parents. A second marriage ended after his wife gambled away $3,000 and Chai nearly choked her to death.
In the Northern part of Wisconsin, deer hunting is a popular activity at select times of the year. People that I know normally hunt for the additional food source, but also for the fact that they can use the majority of the animal in multiple ways, trophy included. (If you hunt just to have a trophy and not use the meat then you should not be hunting.)
Meteor, WI, is a large sparsely populated part of the state and there is a mix of public and private hunting lands. Sunday, November 21, a group of hunters, about 15 in total were in a cabin on private land co-owned by Terry Willers. Terry had left the cabin and found Chai in a deer stand, he inquired with the others in the cabin if someone should be using that stand and was told that nobody should be in it.
Terry approached the deer stand and told Chai to leave the stand and private property. It is claimed that Terry used racial slurs against Chai. It’s stated that Chai apologized and started moving South towards a trail. Five of the hunters left the cabin and arrived at the tree stand.
Witness statements mentioned that one of the victims stated they were going to go talk to Chai and ask him why he was there, who he was, and make sure he was aware it was private property, and he wasn’t welcome to hunt on it. Someone suggested that they get his hunting license number and report it to the DNR.
The following events are disputed…The descriptions of murders are listed below, proceed with caution if this is something that may upset you
After confronting Chai, a violent altercation broke out and four of the eight victims that day were shot in the back, most of them hit by multiple rounds. It is believed that Chai had fired about 20 rounds from a Saiga rifle. This was recovered by police. After the shots were fired, there would be 2 wounded and 5 dead, a sixth person would die the next day.
Chai had raised his rifle in one smooth, continuous sweeping motion he circled right, kneeled and aimed at Terry, who was the only armed person in the group. Chai was quoted as saying, “If I don’t shoot him, he would shoot me.”
Terry Willers was one of the survivors, he dove for cover but landed atop his rifle and couldn’t use it before he was shot in the lower left neck. Mark Roidt was shot and hit the ground dead. Dennis Drew was shot in the stomach before Chai chased Lauren Hesebeck, another survivor, around an UTV and when he was shot, he fell and remained still.
Victim Robert Crotteau, wearing the required blaze-orange coat was an easy target while he raced for his life through the woods. He used a walkie talkie to the cabin to have the others come out with guns. Robert would be shot in the chest and died instantly. Terry also called to the cabin for help where he lay.
At this time, Chai was chasing Joey Crotteau who had fled down a trail. Chai sprinted to close the gap and shot him in the lower back at about 65 yards. Chai reloaded his rifle and approached a struggling Joey Crotteau, Chai shot him again and then closed in and shot him twice more from behind, the final shot was in his head.
Chai took a few minutes to reverse his blaze-orange jacket to the camo side and then his himself near a curve in the trail as he heard an ATV approaching. He waited for them to pass his hiding spot and then fired a bullet, that struck Jessica Willers in the left buttock, and struck Alan Laski shattering his lower spine and his abdomen. Running to his victims, Chai shot Jessica in her neck and Alan through his back.
Returning to the initial site to retrieve his scope and then leave, he came face to face with Lauren Hesebeck who he had thought he killed earlier. Chai said, “You’re not dead yet?” and attempted to shoot him, but he was able to dive for cover and grabbed Terry’s rifle as shots passed over his head.
Lauren was wounded and even with the unfamiliar gun of Terry’s he was not able to aim the gun but could point. The gun still had its safety on and when Lauren pushed it in, he was then able to fire once, and heard the slight metallic sound from Chai’s gun and realized he was out of bullets.
Chai fled on food and discarded his remaining ammunition, claiming he did not want to shoot anyone else. He came across another hunter on an ATV, not affiliated with the victims, and Chai was able to get a ride back to the Vang cabin. Chai was arrested five hours later, and he was held at the Sawyer County Jail, his bail was set for $2.5 million.
Each year a group would gather opening weekend of deer hunting and hunt on the private property owned by Robert Crotteau and Terry Willers.
Here are the victims who died:
Robert Crotteau, 42, owned a concrete business, married with 3 children. Shot once in the back.
Joey Crotteau, 20, Robert’s son and partner. Shot four times in the back.
Alan Laski, 43, manager of a lumber yard, married with 3 children. Shot in the back 3 times.
Mark Roidt, 28, A friend of the group, shot once in the head.
Jessica Willers, 27, Terry’s daughter, engaged and worked as a nurse, shot in the back, twice.
Denny Drew, 55, car salesman, shot once through the stomach, died the next day in the hospital.
These are the victims who were wounded but survived:
Lauren Hesebeck, 48, shot at least once, but up to three times.
Terry Willers, 47, Father of Jessica Willers who died, he was shot once
Why did it have to happen?
It’s not known why it had to happen this way, some believe that the confrontation between Bob and Chai was not simply a “what are you doing here” question and answer session. Bob could be a bully and the history of Chai shows that he was homicidal. So, it could have escalated quickly especially if racial slurs were used as claimed.
Chai Vang claimed self-defense for the murders of six unarmed people. The only person who was armed besides Chai was Terry Willers and Chai claims that Terry shot at him first from 100 feet away, and therefore the shootings were in self-defense. Lauren Hesebeck testified that no shots were fired before Chai began shooting at them, and that the only time Terry’s gun was fired was by him, when Chai had noticed he was still alive.
The criminal complaint states that Chai shot four of his attackers in the back, and Chai himself admits he shot one attacker in the back. He also shot many of them multiple times. The prosecution made use of these facts in arguing against the claim of self-defense.
Chai told the jury he feared for his life and began firing only after another hunter’s shot nearly hit him. He detailed for the jurors how the other hunters approached him, and how he responded by shooting at each one. He says he shot two of the victims in the back because they were “disrespectful.” He recounted with clarity how he killed each victim. Chai Vang contended that three of the hunters deserved to die.
On September 16, 2005, Chai Vang was found guilty of six charges of first-degree intentional homicide and three charges of attempted homicide. He was later sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years. At the time Wisconsin did not have the death penalty.
That my friends is the sad story of Chai Vang and the six hunters who lost their lives. Whether there were racial slurs or not, killing someone should never be the answer. Six people died, but many more have been affected by this tragedy.
Stay Weird Wisconsin