Diocese reaches out to community stunned by massacre
Catholic Charities sends counselors to Crandon; Bishop Morneau to celebrate Mass
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
CRANDON -- Last week, Karen Johnston and her husband, Tom, were vacationing in the north woods. They stopped, as they often do, at a restaurant in Crandon.
"There were homecoming posters in every shop window," said Johnston, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Green Bay. "That's all anyone was talking about. They were so excited."
On Sunday afternoon, Johnston received a call at home from Deacon Tim Reilly, vicar for administration. "He wanted us to make plans," Johnston said.
Those plans were how the diocese could help following a shooting rampage after Crandon High School's homecoming had left seven people dead - including the shooter - and one young man critically injured.
By Monday morning, Catholic Charities had assembled a crisis team of mental health counselors from its Green Bay and Marinette offices to travel to St. Joseph Parish in Crandon.
Val Helander-Paque, manager of clinical services, spoke with parish staff. "They had counselors for Monday, but I made us available to them any day for the rest of the week."
Helander-Paque told her therapists "to clear their schedules and be available."
On Tuesday morning, she and Judy Turba from the Green Bay offices and Justine Koschkee and Debra Mullen from Marinette arrived in Crandon. They planned to be present in Crandon at least through Friday. On Wednesday, classes were scheduled to resume at the public schools and religious educations classes were scheduled at the parish.
"We hope to use the parish as a base to assist the staff there," said Johnston, "and reach out to families who may wish to share their grief."
Crandon is a rural community in Forest County, with a population of less than 2,000. It is about 120 miles northwest of Green Bay. There is one parish in town, and it serves two station churches: St. Mary, Argonne, and St. Michael, Hiles.
Marge Bocek, who coordinates religious education at St. Joseph, lost a nephew in the shootings. She described the experience and its aftermath as "very surreal."
Helander-Paque, shortly after arriving in Crandon and talking with staff, said she believed that "the entire congregation has definitely been affected" by the shootings.
"Our hearts are broken and we're trying to support the parish and the families and the community at this time, as a diocese," said Fr. Paul Demuth, director of parish ministry for the diocese. "Tragedy is unexplainable and we have to put it in God's hands."
On Thursday, Bishop Robert Morneau planned to be in Crandon to preside at a 6 p.m. Mass.
"This past week, the entire Crandon community experienced a great tragedy," he said. "The loss of family members and dear friends has caused indescribable grief."
The bishop added that he prayed that "God's grace strengthen and heal all" people in Crandon.
Rosie Bartels, religious education director for the diocese and Rich Curran, youth and young adult director, both planned to be at St. Joseph's for the Wednesday evening classes. Bartels felt this was especially important, since one of the parish staff had lost a family member in the shootings.
"I encouraged them to have classes since it was a chance to meet together," said Bartels. "Younger children really need the time to talk. I've been in other crisis situations and so many times people think to cancel things. That's the worst thing. Children need time to ask the questions they need to ask.
She said the question that most often surfaces, for children and adults, is, "Why did God let this happen?" She said that while you can talk about things like free will, what is
most important to say is that, "God loves everyone. People can make bad choices, but God still loves them."
Curran said that he has received calls and e-mails from other parishes and other dioceses, offering assistance. For now, he asks everyone to pray for the community and intends to tell the St. Joseph community about the far-reaching care and concern.
"I've been on crisis intervention teams for many years," Curran said, adding that's why he felt it important to be present at St. Joseph, "as part of a support network for students, for the catechists, for the staff at St. Joe's."
Bartels agreed. "Sometimes you just have to sit there and be with them and let them talk."
Fr. Ralph Gillis has been pastor at St. Joseph since 1994. He was unable to speak with The Compass because he was with victim's families. However Bocek said Fr. Gillis was "very appreciative that the diocese is sending so many people, and that Bishop Morneau is coming to say the Mass on Thursday."
The shooting in Crandon took place early Sunday morning. The victims are Jordanne Murray, Katrina McCorkle, Leanna Thomas, (all 18); Bradley Schultz, and Aaron Smith, (both 20); and 14-year-old Lindsey Stahl. Injured was 21-year-old Charlie Neitzel, whose condition was reported as upgraded to serious on Oct. 9.
The seven - all students or graduates of Crandon High School - were shot by 20-year-old Tyler Peterson, an off-duty Forest County sheriff's deputy and part-time Crandon police officer. Tyler, also a Crandon High graduate, admitted to the shootings while speaking to the Forest County district attorney before he died in a shoot-out with police in Argonne Sunday afternoon. How he died was still being investigated.
Johnston called the incident a tragedy that "points to the fact that domestic violence is still a tragic reality in our state." She said that there has been a recent 43% increase in domestic violence in Wisconsin, especially in rural areas like Forest County.
(Editor's note: Anyone affected by the events in Crandon may contact Catholic Charities, toll-free, at 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8234.)