PICKEREL -- Charlie Neitzel's passion for working on automobiles helped land him a job this year at Northern Fiber Works in Crandon, where he built fiberglass race truck parts. "I like building stuff with my hands," said Neitzel, 21.
His dream job ended in a nightmarish fashion shortly after 2:30 a.m. Oct. 7, when Neitzel joined his best friend, Aaron Smith, 20, at a house party in Crandon, a community of about 1,900 people located 110 miles northwest of Green Bay.
Neitzel, Smith and five other people - Bradley Schultz, 20, Jordanne Murray, 18, Katrina McCorkle, 17, Lianna Thomas, 17, and Lindsey Stahl, 14 - were shot by another longtime friend, Tyler Peterson, 20, who arrived, uninvited, at the party just minutes after Neitzel.
The shooting rampage left everyone at the party, except Neitzel, dead. Peterson took his own life later that day.
Today, Neitzel is recovering at home from the three gunshot wounds he received. He looks forward to the day when he can return to work, get behind the steering wheel of his modified Honda Civic, or take his new sport motorcycle out for a spin.
Until then, Neitzel uses a wheelchair and relies on his mother Carole and brother Cyle, 18, to help him get around. His days are spent traveling to medical appointments, or at home watching television and remembering the friends he lost.
During an interview with The Compass Nov. 29 at St. Mary Church in Pickerel, where Carole Neitzel attends Mass occasionally, Charlie and Carole Neitzel recalled the tragedy in Crandon and how their lives have changed.
They also discussed Charlie's rehabilitation and expressed thanks to well-wishers who have offered prayers and support. While Charlie wonders how God allowed such a tragedy, Carole thanks God for protecting her son.
Neitzel said his presence that night at Jordanne Murray's home was unplanned. He was at a different party earlier with another friend, Dustin Pence, when a fight broke out. Neitzel was accosted by a few young men, who chased him away. He then called Smith.
"Aaron said to come over to Jordanne's, so I did. I was there for about 20 minutes and that's when Tyler started calling our cell phones and asking to talk to Jordanne, because she wouldn't answer her phone."
Murray and Peterson, a deputy with the Forest County Sheriff's Department and part-time officer for the Crandon Police Department, had been dating, but Murray broke off the relationship.
Peterson arrived at the house, so Neitzel and Schultz, another longtime friend, decided to step outside and talk to him.
"So me and Bradley put our shoes on and went to go outside and Tyler opened the door right when we unlocked it," said Neitzel. "He walked in and went inside of the house and checked every room to see who was all in the house and ... to see what was going on. He was really angry at Jordanne because she was supposed to hang out with him that night."
Neitzel said the group told Peterson to leave, but he refused.
Peterson kicked out of house
"Tyler got mad because they were trying to kick him out of the house, and (they said) that if he wanted to get back with Jordanne, that wasn't the way to do it," said Neitzel. "They said they were going to call the cops and he said 'I am the cops' and that he just wanted to talk to her. They were pushing him out the door and he hit Jordanne and then he hit Katrina. Then he ran outside and they slammed the door." The ordeal lasted about 10 minutes, said Neitzel.
"Katrina got up and locked the door right away and we were all standing around and saying, 'Oh my God, what happened,'" continued Neitzel.
Within minutes, Peterson returned.
"You could hear him coming up the porch and Katrina looked out the window and saw him and said, 'Oh my gosh, he has a gun, and then he started kicking the door in. That's when he came in and just started shooting everybody," said Neitzel. "It wasn't like he just started shooting all over. He aimed at every person and shot them. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes, not even a minute. It was really fast."
Neitzel was the last person Peterson shot.
"I was standing there and I was backing up into the kitchen and I told him, 'Tyler, you don't have to shoot me. Why are you doing this,' because we had been friends since fifth grade. I just kept yelling at him and swearing at him. He didn't say anything the entire time. Then he started shooting at me."
Armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, Peterson shot Neitzel in the right leg, knocking him to the floor.
"I tried to stand up on it and I was like standing on my one leg and I kind of lunged at him, but he was too far away," said Neitzel. "I was trying to get the gun out of his hand. I figured I was probably going to die anyway, so I tried to see if I could stop him."
Neitzel fell to the floor and crawled into a corner of the kitchen. "I put my hands up and that's when he shot me in the arm, through the elbow. I just fell down in the corner and pretended I was dead," he said. "It was dark in the kitchen. He was standing in the living room. It was just a little apartment. I don't know if he couldn't see me or what. I think he would have been aiming at my head and that's when he shot me in the shoulder. I had my shoulders up and my head tucked down. He must have thought I was dead because ... he reloaded and went outside and started shooting" at Crandon police officer Greg Carter.
Carter, responding to the shots, was hit by flying glass from his vehicle's windshield.
Mother was in Rhinelander
Carole Neitzel was spending the night with a friend in Rhinelander Oct. 6. She turned off her cell phone that evening at a restaurant and didn't turn it on until Sunday morning. That's when she learned something had happened.
"I turned it on and there were 10 messages from different friends and family," she said. After hearing that her son had been shot and was flown to St. Joseph Hospital in Marshfield, Carole's friend drove her to Marshfield, a trip she calls "the longest ride of my life."
"We got there about 10:30 a.m. and Charlie was already in surgery. At that point, it was still touch and go. He had lost a lot of blood," she said. "We didn't get to see him until three in the afternoon."
The three gunshots did extensive damage to Neitzel's right elbow, right leg and right shoulder, shattering the bones. He had a metal rod inserted in his leg, from his knee to his hip. The wounds required six surgeries.
Neitzel spent 10 days in the hospital. He said he was overwhelmed by the cards and letters he received.
"It's awesome. I never thought I would get that many phone calls, that many cards, from all the people that were praying for me," he said. "It's good. It keeps me going, I guess."
The get-well cards and telephone calls have stopped coming, but Neitzel continues his recovery.
"We're always going to some appointment," said Carole. "We've been back to Marshfield about four times. We went to the dentist a couple of times." Neitzel is on five different prescriptions, requiring frequent trips to the pharmacy.
The family has received financial support from the community, and it has helped, said Carole, who has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her job as a certified nursing assistant to care for her son.
"The three of us live in a small house and I'm pretty much the only one making the payments," she said. "I don't make enough, so I (recently) put the house up for sale. And now I took it off the market. ... With all of the donations, we're able to pay the house payment. It's actually made a lot of good changes."
Carole, who was born and raised Catholic, thanks God for saving her son.
"I believe that God saved Charlie for a reason and he has a plan. We just don't know what it is," she said.
Neitzel isn't as hopeful.
Faith is tested by incident
"It's just hard for me to believe in God. I do believe in God, but if there is a God, why would he do that? What's the point?" he asked.
"It's hard not to question. My best friends all died."
Neitzel said he has talked to all of the families who lost a son or daughter. "Right away, I told them all what happened. Some of them have come over a couple of times."
He said he doesn't dwell on the tragedy, but doesn't hide from it either.
"I think about it once in a while. I got a DVD from Channel 4 in Milwaukee with all of the newscasts about it," he said. "I watched that the other day. Then Aaron's memorial DVD; I watched that, with all of his pictures. It's hard to watch it, but it's good at the same time. It makes you feel a little bit better."
Instead of focusing on that fateful night, when six young friends perished at the hands of one of their own troubled friends, Neitzel said he prefers to remember other times.
"I don't remember that (night) because I want to remember what we did, who they were and all the good memories. Not watching them die."
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