Authors note: I used The Tree Stand Murders by David Whitehurst as my primary source for this article.
It was a sunny day, ordinary in many respects, except for what was about to unfold. In the blink of an eye, the scene morphed into a chilling tableau. From the outset, there was a sense of urgency. As the first shot rang out, the scope was dropped. The shooter, too close and targeting uphill, instilled a sense of imminent danger in the atmosphere.
The Chai Vang incident, which took place on November 21, 2004, was a tragic hunting-related shooting that occurred near Birchwood, Wisconsin. Six people were killed and two others severely injured by Chai Soua Vang, a Hmong American immigrant from Laos.
The incident occurred during the annual deer hunting season, on a private land owned by Robert Crotteau. Vang had mistakenly trespassed onto the property, leading to a confrontation with the landowners and their hunting party. The dispute escalated rapidly and Vang began shooting, ultimately killing six people and severely injuring two others.
The victims included the landowners Robert Crotteau and his son Joey, along with their party members: Mark Roidt, Jessica Willers, Denny Drew, and Allan Laski. Terry Willers and Lauren Hesebeck were injured but survived.
Ready, Aim, Slaughter
Lauren Hesebeck yelled a warning to Bob, a name that echoed across the terrain, filling the air with an impending sense of dread. Terry Willers, the only man apart from Vang armed with a rifle, sensed the danger. His instincts heightened, he brought his weapon to the ready position. But Vang was faster; he swung around, pointing his rifle directly at Terry, and fired. The first shot, however, missed its target. Terry dove for cover, attempting to return fire but was too slow.
The second shot that Vang fired was not so inaccurate. Terry’s body fell limp and flattened against the cold earth. Miraculously, Terry was not dead. His life would never be the same, however, as he was paralyzed, robbed of his mobility and freedom forever.
Emboldened by his actions, Vang turned his sights on the rest of the group, who were all unarmed. Mark Roidt was the second target. Seated on an ATV, Mark had just enough time to see the rifle being pointed at him. Reacting with milliseconds to spare, he managed to raise his left arm in defense. Despite his best efforts, the bullet pierced his shoulder, exited, and was poised to wreak more havoc.
The bullet wasn’t finished after exiting Mark’s shoulder. It was still full of lethal momentum and Mark, unfortunately, was in the worst position possible. Being uphill from Vang had catastrophic implications. The bullet exited through the top of his shoulder, paving a path for further damage.
As Mark’s body fell lifelessly onto the ground, his foot slipped off the brake pedal, setting the ATV in motion. For a moment, it carried his limp body until gravity took over, depositing him onto the Wisconsin soil.
In the ensuing chaos, everyone scattered, attempting to find a place to hide from the man determined to leave no witnesses. Vang was just getting started.
Danny Drew was next. The unfortunate man would live for a few more agonizing minutes, the haunting echo of the bullet that found him playing like a chilling soundtrack to his final moments. His companions were scattered, some hidden in bushes, some behind the ATV. Danny had run into Joey Crotteau, who had already claimed the first hiding spot behind the ATV.
In a heart-wrenching game of musical chairs, Danny was the only one left standing when the music stopped. His destiny was sealed in the most tragic way, underscoring the chilling reality of the event unfolding on that day. His fate marked another dark chapter in the grim narrative that Vang was scripting, a tale that would forever be etched in the annals of this small Wisconsin community.
Bob Crotteau was tucked away in the bushes, hoping to avoid the assailant’s wrath. His safety was jeopardized, however, by the blazing orange jacket he wore. It was like a neon sign in the greenery, betraying his position to Vang.
Vang didn’t hesitate. He fired into the bushes, the bullet hissing as it whizzed above Bob’s head. In that instant, Bob understood his orange jacket was not a shield, but a target. He ducked down, wrestling desperately with the zipper of his jacket. It was stuck, stubbornly refusing to release him from the deadly orange shroud. His life hinged on his ability to remove the jacket, but the zipper continued to defy him.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the zipper gave way. But Bob would never manage to shed the jacket. As he was pulling it off his shoulders, a second shot was fired. The sound was swallowed by the chaos around him. He didn’t even hear it. Maybe he was too focused on his task, maybe he was in a zone. Regardless, the bullet found its mark, piercing his lower right back, propelling upwards at 2,600 feet per second. It passed dead center through his heart, bringing with it some of the lining forming his left lung for good measure before exiting the front of his chest. The once bright orange jacket turned a dark, horrific crimson.
Lauren Hesebeck, meanwhile, was near the ATV. Glancing to his right, he saw Drew’s lifeless body on the ground. A look to the left revealed Mark Roidt, similarly sprawled. Then he looked straight ahead and there stood Vang, camo ski mask on, rifle aimed at him.
The first shot aimed at Lauren missed. He took off, running around the right side of the ATV while Vang gave chase around the left. The two engaged in a desperate game of cat and mouse, Lauren unarmed and running for his life, Vang aiming to take it. As long as Lauren kept moving, he could avoid giving Vang a clear shot. Maybe, if he could keep this up, Vang would flee, and he would be safe. That hope, however, came crashing down when his foot caught on a half-buried branch, causing him to trip.
Lauren Hesebeck regained consciousness, an excruciating pain shooting through his left shoulder. As he came to, he found himself sprawled on the ground. His eyes opened to the ominous sight of the ATV, which had previously carried Mark Roidt’s lifeless body, now chugging toward him. Its trajectory was dead center on his head, all 2000 pounds of it bearing down on him. He had survived the shooting thus far, was he destined to die under the wheels of an ATV?
As the ATV rumbled ever closer, Lauren closed his eyes, bracing himself for the impact. Instead of a crushing sensation, however, he heard a loud bang. Opening his eyes, he saw the ATV had veered just in time, colliding into a UTV mere inches from his head. Both vehicles were now at a standstill.
Struggling to his feet, Lauren scanned the area. Vang was nowhere in sight. His gaze fell upon Danny Drew, eyes open, visibly alive despite his grave condition.
“Lauren, I’m gut shot. Can you help me? You’ve got to get me over on my back.” The desperation in Drew’s voice was palpable.
Upon surveying the extent of Drew’s injuries, Lauren understood the odds were heavily stacked against him. His eyes moved to Mark Roidt, lifeless in front of him, a grim reminder of Vang’s ruthless spree.
A noise suddenly caught Lauren’s attention. Terry Willers, the first man shot, and the only one apart from Vang with a rifle, was still alive. It was a miracle he had managed to cling onto life this long, especially given the blood he’d already lost to the Wisconsin soil. Lauren, despite his own pain, hastily folded a jacket and instructed Terry to press it against his spurting wound.
Joey Crotteau was the sole witness left, having managed to evade the hail of bullets. He took off running, with Vang in hot pursuit. The assailant’s intention was clear as he chased Joey through the woods — he was determined to leave no witnesses. Vang had caught Joey and shot him four times in the back.
Chai Vang was later apprehended and in court, he claimed that he fired in self-defense after the group was hostile and allegedly shot at him first. However, the surviving witnesses refuted his claim. In September 2005, Vang was convicted on six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted homicide. He was subsequently sentenced to six life sentences plus 70 years without the possibility of parole.