Outside editorial: Deadly Wisconsin shooting should serve as a warning

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A quarrel breaks out, and suddenly six people are dead. Later, the shooter himself is shot. That tragedy took place in Crandon, Wis. - a quiet North Woods community previously known to the outside world for a long and bitter dispute over a proposed copper and zinc mine.

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The shooter - Tyler Peterson - carried two badges. He was a full-time Forest County sheriff's deputy and a part-time Crandon police officer. In other words, he was supposed to uphold law and order, not himself bring about mayhem. In its investigation of the incident, the state Justice Department must look into the issue of whether Peterson was suited to be a law officer, particularly at such a young age.

Should this tragedy serve as a warning to law enforcement agencies throughout Wisconsin to tighten their requirements for recruits? Peterson, 20, used an assault rifle, like the one issued to him as a deputy sheriff.

The Justice Department should also examine the issue of police response. Despite repeated calls to 911 after Peterson took refuge in the home of a family friend a few miles north of Crandon, hours appear to have passed before police showed up. Peterson had finished killing by the time he came to the friend's home. Otherwise, the inexplicably slow response could have led to even more deaths.

The tightknit community of Crandon won't be the same. Such a tragedy always elicits the question: Why? Fundamentally, there is no satisfactory answer. The day before Peterson's rampage, a 63-year-old church deacon, angry over a divorce settlement, shot up a law office in Alexandria, La., wounding five people, two fatally. Such multiple shootings break out at a rapid clip in America - and now and then in a Wisconsin community.

That the victims themselves were young adds to the tragedy. They had not yet had a chance to fulfill their dreams. And the pain to the families is immense.

In their name, the Justice Department must examine whether this tragedy yields lessons that may help prevent it from happening again.

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