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Suspect in custody

Train bridge shooting investigation continues

August 2, 2008
By LISA M. HOFFMANN, Staff Writer

NIAGARA, Wis. - A suspect in the shooting deaths of three Michigan residents at the East Kingsford train bridge has been arrested.

The incident occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. Thursday when a man dressed in camo opened fire from the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River.

Marinette County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy and Incident Commander Jerry Sauve said at 8:50 a.m. Friday, his office along with Wisconsin State Patrol, the Niagara Police Department and deputies from Lincoln County apprehended a suspect arrested in camo clothes with a military type assault rifle.

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This image provided by the Marinette County Jail shows Scott J. Johnson. Johnson, 38, of Breitung Township was arrested on Friday for the shooting deaths of three teenagers after opening fire with an assault rifle on a group of young swimmers.AP Photo

The suspect was apprehended in the town of Niagara, near the railroad at Bennett Road and County Highway N.

Scott J. Johnson, 38, of Breitung Township, is in custody of the Marinette Police Department and lodged in the Marinette County Jail.

Sauve said the suspect was located when law enforcement agencies saw this person dressed in camo exit a wooded area near County N and Bennett Road, near the railroad tracks, and throw his rifle to the ground. Sauve also said the suspect had nothing to say to authorities although he did comply with directives.

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At this time, police are not aware of any relationship or connection to the victims or a motive for the actions.

"We've had tremendous cooperation with the sheriff's and police departments throughout the state," Sauve said.

More than 100 law enforcement agencies throughout the state of Wisconsin assisted in the search for the suspect.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in response for a request for assistance from the Marinette County Sheriff's Department, the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation responded with 25 Special Agents and Supervisory Agents including a Tactical Response Team.

"I want to personally thank the Division of Criminal Investigation agents and the State Crime Lab forensic scientists who responded to the requests for assistance. They went above and beyond the call of duty, and for that I am grateful, and continue to be very proud," Van Hollen said. "I would like to thank the law enforcement agencies from both Wisconsin and Michigan that responded to this tragic event."

Sauve said it is not known how the suspect obtained the assault rifle, but it was noted he had previous military experience. Sauve did not say when or in which branch of service he served. He also said the suspect had a knife.

At noon on Friday, the bodies of those killed at the scene were being recovered. The Marinette County Coroner was at the site of the incident mid-day on Friday.

Four people were shot, three of them fatally.

Killed were 17-year-old Tiffany Pohlson, 18-year-old Anthony D. Spigarelli and 19-year-old Bryan Mort.

Injured was 20-year-old Daniel Louis Gordon. When contacted by The Daily News, he and his family said they did not wish to comment on the incident.

All of victims are from Michigan.

Pohlson was to be a senior at Norway-Vulcan Area Schools in the fall. Spigarelli and Mort are recent Kingsford High School graduates. Gordon also attended Kingsford High School, and was a 2008 GED recipient.

Police said Mort was shot on the Michigan side and

Pohlson and Spigarelli were shot on the Wisconsin side of the river. Gordon is also believed to have been shot while on the Michigan side.

Early investigation indicated there were nine people at the train bridge. At this time, police have conflicting reports of how many people were at the site of the incident.

"We would like the community to know we are quite confident we have who we were looking for," Sauve said. "There is one (suspect)."

A lockdown to the area of the crime scene continued until Friday afternoon while the crime scene was investigated.

Barricades at County N in Aurora and Niagara were taken down. Residents evacuated from their homes Thursday night and Friday morning were serviced by the American Red Cross. A shelter was set up at Hillcrest School in Aurora. That shelter was closed at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and residents were allowed access to their homes. It is not known how many homes were evacuated, but the evacuation was approximately one mile around the scene.

Sauve said the incident was described to him as "a man in camo clothes who appeared from a wooded area and shots were fired."

"Some escaped and some we don't know," he said.

Law enforcement could not confirm how many shots were fired.

Sauve said the young people who escaped have been interviewed and told not to talk with media while the investigation is ongoing. Numerous phone calls were placed to those who were believed to be at the site, but they said they are not commenting at this time.

One teen avoided the tragedy when his boat had no fuel.

Leonard Paquin, 17, of East Kingsford, said Thursday was the first day all summer he and his friends didn't go down to the train bridge.

"We were going to go meet all those people who got shot down there," said Paquin. "At the last second, we realized there was no gas in the boat so we couldn't go. I'm actually glad now that we couldn't go."

Overnight searches included air support from the Wisconsin State Patrol and numerous agencies assisting with more than 100.

"They were watching and listening all night long," Sauve said.

Marinette County District Attorney Brent DeBord said charges will depend on what the investigation shows.

"I want to thank all law enforcement for getting out in this dangerous situation," DeBord said. "I appreciate patience of evacuation of the area. This is quite a tragedy for this area."

Further news statements on the incident will be issued by the Marinette County District Attorney's office.

Court records show a petition for a personal protection order was filed against Johnson by a Kingsford woman Friday. The woman claimed Scott J. Johnson recently sexually assaulted and raped her. They rode bicycles together and then Johnson raped her, the personal protection order said.

Violet Weiser who lives near Johnson said he was a nice man.

"All I know about Scott was he a wonderful young man. He went into the service and came back, maybe something happened then," said Weiser. "He did a lot of running. I liked him very, very much. He never caused trouble, never created a problem."

She added something had to have happened to trigger something like this.

"I feel very, very sorry for what happened. It is a terrible tragedy," Weiser said.

U.S. Reps. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, and Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, expressed their sympathy Friday for the families of the victims.

Stupak and Kagen spoke with local and state law enforcement officials Friday and pledged their support to secure any federal resources that may be necessary.

"Our sympathy goes out to the families of the victims of this senseless attack," said Stupak, who served 12 years with the Escanaba Police Department and Michigan State Police before being elected to Congress.

"The men and women of the more than 10 law enforcement agencies involved are to be commended for their action in quickly apprehending a suspect in this tragic case," he said.

Kagen expressed his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of this "unspeakable tragedy."

"Our local law enforcement does a tremendous job and I want to commend them on their swift action in protecting our community," Kagen said.

Stupak, who spoke Friday with Dickinson and Marinette County sheriff's department personnel as well as the Michigan State Police, and Kagen, who spoke with the sheriffs' offices in Marinette and Florence Counties as the manhunt unfolded, pledged to deliver federal assistance if necessary.

Crisis counseling for individuals affected by this tragedy is available.

Marinette County residents can call the ADAPT Niagara Office of the Marinette County Health and Human Services at (715) 251-4555. Michigan residents can contact Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare Systems at 774-0522.

Florence County residents can contact ADAPT in Niagara or call the Florence County Sheriff's Department at (715) 528-3346.

Food and beverages were provided by the American Red Cross branches of Iron Mountain and Marinette and Menominee. The local Coca-Cola distributor donated cases of beverages and Subway donated sandwiches.

Numerous municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies supported the search and apprehension operations.

Four area fire departments assisted in perimeter control while Niagara Area Emergency Unit and Beacon Ambulance Service established a medical station at the command post.

Marinette County Emergency Management provided public information support.

Lisa M. Hoffmann's e-mail address is



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