Faith revealed in aftermath of Crandon tragedy
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
CRANDON -- Tragedy tests strength - and reveals faith.
On Oct. 7, the strength of the people of Crandon was tested when seven people died, and one other was seriously injured, in a series of shootings.
The victims are Jordanne Murray, Katrina McCorkle, Leanna Thomas, (all 18); Bradley Schultz, and Aaron Smith, (both 20); and 14-year-old Lindsey Stahl. Seriously injured was 21-year-old Charlie Neitzel. He is recuperating.
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 shot himself during a stand-off with police.
Crandon's strength and faith revealed itself in the hours and days that followed.
"What we did was very small compared to the amount of outreach that the people there were doing for each other," said Rich Curran, youth and young adult director for the Green Bay Diocese. "That was what was absolutely visible."
Curran was part of a team of diocesan staff that went to Crandon on Oct. 9-11. He said what struck him most was the forgiveness offered to the family of Peterson.
"To hear how the families of the victims had gone to Tyler's family to make sure that his family was not shunned, had not become an outcast, that was a graced moment," said Curran.
"And that had rippling effects," he added. "Their public witness of faith - even though they came from various faiths - was amazing. Then the conversation changed to saying, 'We can't hold a grudge against Tyler. He was a great kid. Something went terribly wrong. So we can't blame the family.' They have a great sense of community. The importance of family and church was very strong."
That shows around the small town of around 2,000 residents where signs and painted store windows speak of faith and fortitude: "In God We Trust" "Our Hearts Go Out To You" "Love You
Guys" and "In Our Hearts." Classes were cancelled at the high school to allow students to attend the seven funerals held throughout the week. (The family of Peterson has requested that his funeral be held last, out of respect for the other families.) And the house where the victims died will be torn down to make way for a memorial.
Val Helander-Paque, manager of clinical services for Catholic Charities in Green Bay, and three other mental health counselors went to Crandon Oct. 9. They went to offer comfort and help, but they found that in return.
"We had the opportunity to meet a lot of incredible people. They just opened their hearts to us," said Helander-Paque. "They were so welcoming and gracious to us. By the time we left, we left a part of us behind."
Val Helander-Paque and Judy Turba from Green Bay Catholic Charities and Justine Koschkee and Debra Mullen from Catholic Charities, Marinette, were in Crandon until Thursday, assisting Fr. Ralph Gillis, pastor of St. Joseph Parish and his staff. They and Rosie Bartel of the education department met with parish members, community members and religious education parents and students.
"The people there are grieving tremendously," Helander-Paque said. "Kids were affected almost all over Forest County. If it wasn't a family member who was hurt or killed, it was someone you knew."
Curran said he and other staff continue to receive offers of assistance from around the state, and beyond. Just one example was the six members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, gathered together by Sr. Anne Turba (Judy's sister), who traveled to Crandon to sing in the choir for the Mass offered by Bishop Robert Morneau on Oct. 11 at St. Joseph Church.
Catholic Charities continues to assist those affected to help them find local counseling assistance. Helander-Paque said she hopes to return to the area in the next few weeks. "Catholic Charities will maintain a presence there for years to come," she said.