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Chai Soua VANG

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Trespassing dispute
Number of victims: 6
Date of murder: November 21, 2004
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: September 24, 1968
Victims profile: Robert Crotteau, 42; Joey Crotteau, 20; Allan Laski, 43; Mark Roidt, 28; Jessica Willers, 27; and Denny Drew, 55  (deer hunters)
Method of murder: Shooting (Saiga rifle)
Location: Birchwood, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years on November 8, 2005
 
 
 
 
 

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chai soua vang the victims
 
 
 
 
 
 
criminal complaint probable cause
 
 
state patrol diagram of shooting scene
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chai Soua Vang (born September 24, 1968) is a hunter who shot several deer hunters in northern Wisconsin on November 21, 2004.

According to court proceedings prior to his conviction, Vang acknowledged shooting the hunters, which included women, but challenged the chain of events that caused a dispute over a deer stand to become violent and how it escalated into multiple deaths.

Eventually, six of the hunters died and two were left wounded. Vang, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is a Hmong immigrant from Laos who lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota at the time of the shootings. He is being held at Iowa State Penitentiary.

Background

Vang is the father of six children, a family shaman, and a hunting enthusiast. Chai Vang and his brothers came to the United States from Laos in 1980 and settled in California. Chai Vang lived in Sacramento and eventually enlisted in the California National Guard.

Around the year 2000, Vang moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. A few years later, he and his family moved a few miles to the neighboring city of St. Paul. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments answered several calls about domestic violence at the Vang residences during this time.

On the weekend of the murders, Vang went out deer hunting with two friends and their two sons in northwest Wisconsin, a region where deer hunting is particularly popular, east of Birchwood, Wisconsin around the town of Meteor.

Meteor has a large area with a low population. In this region, there is a mix of public and private land. It is believed that Vang and his friends began their day on public land, but he later went onto a private 400 acre (1.6 kmē) tract of land.

On Sunday, November 21, a hunting party of about 15 people were in a cabin on this private land. One person, Terry Willers, left the cabin and saw Vang sitting in a deer stand. He used a handheld radio to ask the people still in the cabin whether or not anyone should be in the stand. Upon receiving a response in the negative on that question, he began to approach Vang and called to him to leave the private land.

After asking directions, Vang proceeded to walk away towards a trail through a forested area of the property. He was confronted at that point by five of the hunters from the cabin who had heard Terry Willers radio message. It must be noted that the area in question during the event did not contain sign denoting private property.

The events after the confrontation are under dispute. At this point the aggressor of this event will only be known by Willers, Hesebeck, and Vang; however, four of the eight injured hunters were shot in the back, and three of these four were hit by multiple rounds.

Terry Willers radioed the cabin and said that they had been shot. The others came out to provide assistance, some riding on all-terrain vehicles. Vang proceeded to shoot more of the hunters. Within a short period, five of the hunters were dead and three more were wounded. Vang then disappeared into the woods. It is believed that he fired about 20 rounds from a Saiga rifle chambered in 7.62x39 serial number HO-3104079.

Vang was apprehended about five hours after the shootings and was placed in custody of the Sawyer County Jail on November 24, 2004. His bail is set for $2.5 million.

One of the wounded hunters died the next day, bringing the toll to six dead and two wounded.

Victims

The victims were part of a group about 15 people who made their annual opening-weekend trip to the 400 acre (1.6 kmē) property co-owned by Robert Crotteau and Terry Willers. Among the victims were a father and son, Robert and Joey Crotteau. A memorial website for the victims was created Memorial Page

Those who were killed:

1.        Robert Crotteau, 42, owned concrete business in Rice Lake. Married with 3 children. Shot once in the back.

2.        Joey Crotteau, 20, Robert's son and partner. Shot 4 times in the back.

3.        Allan Laski, 43, manager of a Rice Lake area lumber yard. Married with 3 children. Shot in the back 3 times.

4.        Mark Roidt, 28, a friend of the Drew family. Shot once in the head.

5.        Jessica Willers, 27, a nurse from Rice Lake who had moved to Green Bay. She was engaged. Shot in the back twice.

6.        Denny Drew, 55, a car salesman in Rice Lake. Shot once through the stomach and died in the hospital.

Those who were wounded:

1.        Lauren Hesebeck, 48, a manager at car dealership in Rice Lake. Drew was his brother-in-law. Shot once through the shoulder, exiting the back.

2.        Terry Willers, 47, father of Jessica Willers. Worked in Crotteaus' concrete business. Shot once in the neck.

Reaction and controversy

The shooting incident attracted nationwide attention and sparked much controversy. Because of Vang's background as a Hmong immigrant from Laos, many Hmong feel they have been greatly discriminated against because of the incident.

Many white upper-Midwest residents say the focus of news reports was on the potential discrimination against Hmong instead of on the actual suffering of the victims of the shootings. This included a brief circulation of bumper stickers entitled "Save a Deer, Shoot a Hmong" akin to the controversial 1989 campaign of "Save a Walleye. Spear a Indian" at Rice Lake.

Accusations of Racism also occurred, many claiming that either Vang or the white shooting victims was the target of hate crime. Among incidents that are attributed to crimes toward the Hmong community due to the events are as follows:

  • Possible arson destroying a former home owned by Chai Soua Vang.

  • Spray paint of "killer" on 3 Hmong homes in Menominee.

  • Hate literature showing up in a Hmong neighborhood in St. Paul.

Investigation

There have been conflicting reports about what may have led to the shootings. According to oral statements by Vang, one of the local hunters, Terry Willers, took the first shot at him from about 100 feet (30 m) away, and therefore the shootings were in self-defense. No shell casing was ever recovered from Willer's gun even though during the trial Hesebeck admitted to firing a single shot. Hesebeck testified no shot was ever fired.

Additional forensic analysis of Willer's gun was not performed by the local law enforcement. Vang claims race may have been a factor, alleging that during the verbal dispute, some of the local hunters yelled out racial slurs at him such as "chink" and "gook".

On the stand Hesebeck admited Robert Crotteau had called Vang a 'Hmong a--hole.' Hesebeck also admitted that he told law enforcement that Robert Crotteau had problems with trespassers in the past, specifically citing Hmong hunters, who apparently are known to travel to Wisconsin from Minnesota to hunt.

The term "Mud Duck" is a common reference to Minnesota residents used often in Western Wisconsin, similar to "Cheesehead" being used to describe Wisconsin residents. The term was used to describe Chai Vang noting that he was from Minnesota.

The term has no racial connotation, although the defense made this claim. This word was used when Willers radioed back to the cabin. It is unknown how during the altercation, they were able to conclude that Vang was from Minnesota.

Vang has a history of domestic violence. In addition, the criminal complaint states Vang shot four of the victims in the back and Vang himself admits he shot one victim in the back, which, the prosecutor's office claims does not help the case for self defense. In addition, many of the victims were shot multiple times.

Trial

The trial of Chai Soua Vang began Saturday, September 10, 2005 in Sawyer County Courthouse. 14 jurors (10 women and four men) were selected from Dane County, Wisconsin, and bussed about 280 miles northwest to Sawyer County, where they were sequestered.

Vang told the jury he feared for his life and began firing only after another hunter's shot nearly hit him. He detailed for jurors how the other hunters approached him, and how he responded by shooting at each one. He says he shot two of the victims in the back because they were "disrespectful".

He recounted with clarity how he killed each victim. While saying on the stand, "(he wished) it wasn't happening", Chai Soua Vang contended that three of the hunters deserved to die:

"Did Mr. Crotteau deserve to die?" Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager asked.

"Yes," Chai Soua Vang replied.

Vang further testified that Joseph Crotteau deserved to die "because he accused me of giving him the finger and tried to cut in front of me to stop me from leaving." And Laski deserved to die because he had a gun, he said. Vang re-enacted his deeds while on the stand, using his hands and arms to imitate the motions of firing a rifle. Vang's lawyers commented that some of his seemingly abnormal remarks were due possibly to the language barrier.

Conviction

On September 16, 2005 Chai Soua Vang was found guilty of all six charges of first degree murder and two charges of attempted murder by a jury of eight women and four men.

On November 8th, 2005, he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years (40 for two counts of attempted murder plus five additional years for each count of murder in the first degree). Wisconsin is one of a handful of states in the U.S. that does not have the death penalty.

Military experience

  • Six years in the California National Guard, 1989–1995

  • Sharpshooter qualification badge (mid-level, above "marksman,")

  • Good Conduct medal.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Life Sentence For The Murder Of 6 Hunters

November 09, 2005

A Hmong immigrant convicted of murdering six deer hunters and attempting to kill two others after a trespassing dispute was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday with no chance for parole.

Judge Norman Yackel ordered Chai Soua Vang, 37, to serve six life prison terms, one after the other, guaranteeing he would never be freed from prison. Wisconsin does not have a death penalty.

Yackel described Vang as a "time bomb ready to go off" at the slightest provocation.

"These crimes are not isolated acts, but a pattern of anti-social conduct," the judge said.

Vang, a truck driver from St. Paul, Minn., was convicted on six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted homicide in the Nov. 21 slayings.

The homicide charges carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison, but Yackel could have set a parole eligibility date for Vang. The judge also sentenced Vang to three concurrent terms of 40 years in prison on the attempted homicide charges.

The slayings occurred during the state's beloved deer hunting season and exposed racial tension between the predominantly white north woods residents and immigrants from the Hmong ethnic group.

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager sought the maximum sentence for Vang, a father of seven children. She argued Vang would kill again unless he was locked up for the rest of his life, given his "explosive temperament" and lack of true remorse or regret.

Vang addressed the victims' families in court Tuesday but did not apologize.

"I understand your anger, your frustration, your grief," he said.

According to trial testimony, Vang said he got lost, went into a tree stand on the private land and was asked by another hunter, Terry Willers, to leave. Vang said he apologized and started walking away.

Other companions of Willers arrived, and there was an angry verbal confrontation and threats to report Vang to game wardens for trespassing.

Vang testified he fired in self-defense after one hunter angrily shouted profanities at him and used racial slurs before another fired at him.

Willers and the other wounded hunter, Lauren Hesebeck, said no one in their group pointed a gun at Vang before he opened fire.

Willers and Hesebeck indicated only one shot was fired at Vang - by Hesebeck, who was already wounded and some of his friends lay mortally wounded on the ground.

Vang was convicted of killing Robert Crotteau, his son Joey Crotteau, Denny Drew, Allan Laski, Jessica Willers and Mark Roidt. All were relatives and friends who gathered to hunt from the Crotteaus' cabin near Exeland.

 
 

In Deer Country, a Puzzling Shooting Spree

RICE LAKE, Wis., Nov. 22 -- The survivors said the shooting was entirely unexpected. Hunters on private property had told Chai Soua Vang that he was trespassing and needed to leave the deer stand, where he had taken a position on Sunday morning with his SKS assault rifle.

Vang climbed down and walked about 40 yards. He took the scope off his rifle, turned and opened fire, Sawyer County Sheriff James Meier said Monday. One of the wounded men radioed for help. Others headed to the rescue, but Meier said Vang also opened fire on them, leaving five dead and three seriously wounded.

"The rescuers, who also came under fire, checked bodies for signs of life," Meier said. "They grabbed who they could grab and got out of there because they were still under fire." They left the dead in the woods.

Vang, 36, ran out of bullets and fled, the sheriff said. He was captured several hours later when two hunters encountered him wandering lost. They took him to a game warden, who arrested him and remarked: "He was very calm. He didn't say anything." A sixth hunter died tonight. Shot in the abdomen, Denny Drew, 55, improved enough during the day to be flown by helicopter from Rice Lake to a trauma center in Marshfield, Wis., but he died soon after.

Vang, who is from St. Paul, in neighboring Minnesota, and has not been charged, is the sole suspect in an incident that has been met in deer country with bafflement and sorrow as much as outrage. People talked of being mystified that a dispute over a deer stand, not uncommon in the intensity of Wisconsin's brief hunting season, could become so bloody.

"It's just bizarre," said Mark Miller, who owns Fatman's Bar, where shooting victim Robert Crouteau -- killed with his 20-year-old son, Joey -- was a regular. "It's worse when you know them. I knew Bobby pretty good."

Police said Vang, a former soldier and member of the Hmong community in Minnesota, has been cooperative. They declined to say whether he offered his own version of events. Meier gave the following account to reporters:

Vang was hunting with companions near Birchwood in northern Wisconsin on Sunday, the second day of the state's nine-day deer season. He walked onto private property, owned by Crouteau, next to public land where his group may have intended to hunt.

Dressed in blaze-orange gear and camouflage, he climbed into a vacant deer stand. Terry Willers, walking with at least one friend, spotted Vang and used his walkie-talkie to radio back to his base camp and ask whether Vang had permission to be there. Told that Vang was trespassing, Willers radioed that he would ask him to leave.

Willers told Vang to go and was soon joined by two friends. There may have been a confrontation, although details remain unclear. Vang climbed down and started to walk away before turning and shooting. As Willers radioed for help, Vang opened fire on others.

"They keyed up the radio and said, 'I've been shot! Send some more help!' " Meier reported.

Vang emptied his 20-round clip within 15 minutes. He allegedly shot two people off their all-terrain vehicles, and chased others. Authorities have not said whether the other hunters fired back.

The rescuers managed to retrieve three wounded friends, put them on their four-wheelers and escape. Someone noted Vang's hunting license number and wrote it in the dust of an ATV. The number was relayed to authorities, who issued a bulletin as the survivors were taken to hospitals.

Vang waded deeper into the thick cover. "He was wandering aimlessly in the woods, lost," Meier said.

Later in the day, Vang asked two hunters for help. They took him to a game warden, who recognized his hunting license tag. He was still carrying his SKS rifle, a simple and inexpensive firearm often used by local hunters.

"He was out of bullets or might not have been done yet," speculated Miller, who said Vang had no business being in someone else's deer stand. "You don't go wander out and sit in somebody's stand. There is no reason for him to be there. Something's really goofy."

Rules and etiquette on American hunting passed from generation to generation have proved unfamiliar to many Hmong, who come from Laos, where hunting is a practiced skill. The Lao mountains are among the wildest and least populated areas of the world. There are no regulations about what, where or when to hunt. Conservation officers and property owners in several states have reported conflicts with the Hmong over their hunting practices, often because they did not understand American traditions. Four years ago, Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources hired a Hmong officer to teach the community about local hunting and fishing rules.

Joe Bee Xiong, 44, is a Hmong resident who has been hunting deer near Eau Claire, Wis., since he reached the United States from Laos in 1979. He said that he was stunned and horrified by the killings, and that he wants to know more. He said Vang may have felt confused or defensive.

"To think that he shot so many people makes me think maybe something that we don't know about happened," said Xiong, director of the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association and a former Eau Claire City Council member. "Once in a while when I'd hunt I'd meet non-Hmong who would say things to me, but I speak English well and I know the laws, so I would explain myself and walk away from the situation."

Authorities said Vang spoke English well.

People in Rice Lake talked of little else Monday. One man said it was freakish and unexpected, like the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Most everyone seemed to know one of the victims.

"That's been the hardest part of it. It's a really close family here," said Lynn D. Koob, a Rice Lake surgeon who tended to Drew and saw him onto the helicopter. Patricia Willers, whose husband, Terry Willers, was wounded and daughter Jessica Willers, 27, was killed, is an operating room nurse here.

The others killed were Al Laski, 43, and Mark Roidt, 28. Survivor Lauren Hasebeck, 48, is listed in stable condition.

At Fatman's, Richard Kern and two friends stopped for a drink Monday night after spending the day in the woods. Still wearing their blaze-orange hats, they could not fathom the crime, not in a community where hunting eclipses almost everything else this time of year. Many children take their first aim at a buck as soon as they turn the legal age.

"Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving. It's when deer hunting starts," said Kern, a 33-year-old painter. "Most of the people around here have been hunting since they were 12. It's just something we do."

 
 

Portrait

Nearly every Friday about midnight, when Chai Soua Vang finished working the second of his two jobs as a truck driver, he would head north to 40 acres he'd bought near Mora, Minn.

Surrounded by birch and oak trees, he would stay at his cabin until Monday, unwinding in his oasis and escaping the demands of life: juggling two jobs, paying two mortgages, providing for 10 children - including a newborn - and assisting his extended family.

Two weeks ago, with Minnesota's deer hunting season winding down and Wisconsin's just starting, Vang headed 80 miles east of his Kanabec County cabin.

He might never leave Wisconsin again.

Vang, 36, is jailed and charged with killing six hunters and injuring two others after a confrontation in the woods that turned violent Nov. 21.

Relatives, friends and co-workers from Minnesota to California had kind words about Vang, but his life story is more complex. Vang is praised as a caring brother and grandson, yet California records suggest he had defaulted on child support for three of the 10 children he has by four women.

He is described as a role model for Hmong students, but has had previous brushes with the law.

Minneapolis police who were called to Vang's home on Dec. 24, 2001 say he admitted to waving a handgun and threatening to kill his wife, though he was not charged with a crime. Co-workers recall him as a hard-working truck driver, though he had run-ins with hunting and fishing authorities. .

Shock in Stockton

On the second floor of a shabby apartment building near downtown Stockton, Calif., Vang's grandfather answered the door last week in bare feet, a traditional black robe and a cap. Sitting on a stool and speaking through an interpreter, Nou Cher Vang, 77, recalled washing Chai Vang with warm water the day he was born in 1968 in a mountainous region of northwest Laos.

"I cannot hold my tears," the grandfather said.

Chai Vang's father died four years ago, and Nou Cher Vang was depending on his grandson to help him in his final years.

"I had hoped he would bury me," he said. "I don't want to eat or drink because I feel so emotional. I don't know what to do. He is locked up. I don't have money, no transportation. Now if I die, I would die like an animal; no one is going to pray for me."

He remembered his grandson as the smartest of his grandchildren and the one who best understood the needs of the family. When Chai Vang visited his grandfather once and saw no food, he returned with a 100-pound bag of rice.

"What I believe, in my heart, this person is decent," he said. "If I could talk to him, I'd say: `Why did you do that? I am your grandfather.' I would shout at him: `Why did you do that?' "

Chai Vang's cousins in Stockton, Long Vang, Pao Vang and Chue Vang, mixed disbelief with memories and anecdotes. They recalled growing up in Laos in a mountain community named Phun Hao, with 100 families, no electricity, plumbing or schools. The children's fathers farmed when they weren't fighting with the CIA against Communist forces, blocking the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War.

"We'd play soldier and we'd use bamboo to make a gun," Long Vang said. "We'd hide in the bush and go bang, bang, bang."

The extended family left Laos in 1975 and settled in a refugee camp in Thailand. Chai Vang's family moved on to St. Paul in 1980 and to Stockton in 1985. Chai Vang would return to St. Paul in 1999, after serving in the California National Guard, working as a teacher's aide, then becoming a long-haul truck driver to make more money.

Chue Vang, 27, remembers Chai Vang working at the Lao Family Community Center in Stockton, coaching kids in soccer and karate.

"He used to be a role model," Chue Vang said. "He was a mentor for us at the time."

Pao Vang, 29, sells insurance in Stockton. He recalled playing in a soccer tournament at age 15 that his older cousin helped organize.

"A bunch of young people tried to attack me and my friends," Pao Vang said, recalling how his "patient" cousin Chai came over and told them not to fight. "He said: `We don't believe in violence.' He's just a laid-back person."

Now they see pictures of Chai Vang in prison orange, and it's hard to reconcile those images with their memories.

"We are devastated at what happened," Chue Vang said. "I wouldn't expect it to happen to Chai. He seemed to be a reasonable person. It makes us all look bad - but we really don't know what happened other than it has a negative impact on the Hmong community."

Among those most stunned by the news of Chai Vang's arrest was Bee Vang, the Lao/Hmong bilingual outreach liaison for the Stockton Unified School District.

He remembered how Chai Vang started the Hmong Club at Franklin High School in Stockton so students would have a voice, and how he became its first president.

"He was highly respected as a role model and leader of students," said Bee Vang, who's not related to Chai. Bee Vang said Chai Vang graduated from Franklin in 1987, attended San Joaquin Delta College, a community college in Stockton, helped provide security at the annual Hmong New Year celebration and captained the community soccer team.

"He just had a big heart for the community," said Bee Vang, 34. "I was totally shocked when I saw it on the news. I couldn't believe it happened. He was a very reasonable guy. Even in high school, he was the most mature Hmong student." .

A sister's story

Mai Vang, 39, has been at her brother Chai's side since childhood in Sayaboury Province in Laos. Mai is the oldest of six children; Chai is the eldest of three sons.

As their parents farmed rice and corn amid hillsides and valleys, the brother and sister were inseparable.

"He and Mai were together all the time," said Her Vang, another cousin who lives in Minneapolis.

When the extended family fled the Vietnam War for a refugee camp in Thailand, Mai remembered how Chai fell in love with hunting, chasing after the elders to shoot birds and squirrels with them.

"Ever since we were little, we have been together because he was the next child in the family," Mai Vang said through an interpreter.

She recalled how, when the family first emigrated to St. Paul in 1980, she and her brother delivered Pioneer Press newspapers before school. When they moved to Stockton after five years in Minnesota, her brother always tried to be a leader, volunteering at a community center and doing whatever was asked around the house, she said.

"He always shared what he had with me," said Mai Vang, who lives in Blaine and works on a medical-parts assembly line. "Ever since we had our own families and didn't have a chance to come and visit one another, he would always take the time to call and see how I was doing."

During his roughly 14 years in Stockton, Chai Vang spent six years in the California National Guard, earning a sharpshooter's badge, and drove a truck across 48 states. Mai Vang said the family returned to Minnesota in 1999, seeking a lower cost of living and less demanding work. When their father, Cher Vang, died four years ago, Mai's brother was there for her.

"I cried and missed my father very much, but we knew we had Chai as the oldest son in the family, so he would lead us," she said. "All of a sudden he is in this situation, and it seems like hope is dying."

She began to sob when she thought of the victims' families in Wisconsin and her trip last Sunday to visit her brother in the Sawyer County jail.

"We understand the pain and hardship of the families that have lost loved ones," Mai Vang said. "We know it is very hard for them. But it is very hard for us as well to process all this pain and heartache. We send our condolences to the families, and all I can do is ask God to be with us all."

When she visited her brother in jail, Mai asked him what had happened and why he didn't just come home after he was told he was on private property.

"He told me a man started yelling at him and called his friends on a walkie-talkie and they surrounded him," she said. "They yelled and scolded him and cursed him racially."

In a story that contradicts what the two survivors told police, Chai Vang told his sister that he glanced back over his shoulder after he began to walk away.

"He told me a bullet flew by his head and if he hadn't turned around, it would have hit him in the back of the head," she said. "That's why he took his gun and shot it."

She asked why he didn't then leave before shooting seven others.

"He said there were just too many people and he had to do what he did to survive," she said. "All I know is that he is a very good brother and he would not just want to kill anyone." .

Precursor of rage?

She said her brother has no history of mental health issues. Court records show one violent outburst, some complicated child support issues and a few run-ins with authorities over hunting violations.

On Christmas Eve of 2001, Minneapolis police responded to a 911 call from two screaming women. When they arrived, Chai Vang explained that he "got out of hand" during an argument with his longtime wife, Say Xiong, about their impending breakup. The couple married as teenagers in a ceremony arranged by their families and had five children. Xiong had grown tired of his long truck-driving absences.

He told police he waved a handgun and threatened to kill her before the women called 911. After spending Christmas in jail, he was released and no charges were filed.

Say Xiong now lives in Milwaukee with five of Chai's children.

After the breakup, he had a short-term relationship with a woman named Zia Yang that produced a baby named Ka Bao in May 2003, according to state Health Department birth records. About a year ago, Chai Vang began courting Deu Lee Khang. Family members said they were married in a Hmong ceremony that is not recognized by state authorities. Khang even bought some land adjoining Vang's near Mora. The couple's daughter was born two months ago in a Maplewood hospital.

Documents in Stockton reviewed by the Star Tribune show Chai Vang was found to have defaulted on child support for three children of Youa Lee, now ages 8, 5, and 2. All told, records suggest Chai Vang has 10 children with four women.

Chai Vang's run-ins with wildlife officers include a 2001 fine of $328 for possessing 93 crappies over the fishing limit. The next year, while hunting with Ber Xiong in Green Lake County near Madison, Wis., he was ticketed for trespassing. When Vang failed to appear in court or pay the $244 fine, an arrest warrant was issued.

Ber Xiong, who lives in St. Paul and has known Chai Vang since they were neighbors in north Minneapolis in 2000, said they had permission to hunt on a farm owned by a relative, but a neighbor called authorities when she heard gunshots. They told a deputy they had permission to hunt there, Xiong said, but the deputy told them they could explain that in court. Xiong paid the fine; Vang never did. .

Shaman rituals

About five years ago, Chai Vang began performing shaman rituals, according to Xiong, who would join him at the ceremonies. He explained that Hmong shamans are blessed with special gifts, including the ability to speak to those "on the other side," curing ailments and seeing into the future during trance-like rituals.

"He has an altar and a special bench and jumps up and down and sends messages back and forth in a different language," Xiong said, through an interpreter. "He would always spend about an hour talking to the family and explaining what he would do and what it meant. I would hold him and make sure he didn't fall."

Xiong hadn't seen Vang for a couple of years, but bumped into him three weeks ago at a funeral in Maplewood.

"We chatted about life, work and hunting and he said he was planning to head up to Wisconsin," Xiong said. "He had a very decent haircut, nice clothes and was very friendly and seemed as stable a person as ever."

Her Vang, the cousin and hunting partner who has lived near Chai Vang in Laos, Thailand, Stockton and Minneapolis, said he last saw him a couple of weeks before the Wisconsin shooting.

Her Vang said Chai was never happier than when he was at his place near Mora, where he'd often invite his relatives to enjoy the peace and calm.

"Absolutely, life was good," Her Vang said.

Now his family has left their home in St. Paul, fearing a backlash. Mai Vang, his sister, has received calls threatening Chai Vang's family.

"It's all so hard to understand," said Ber Xiong, "what triggered a perfectly decent person to become involved in such a tragedy."

 
 

The life of Chai Soua Vang: From Laos to Thailand to America

  • Sept. 24, 1968: Chai Soua Vang is born in a mountainous region in the Sayaboury Province of northwest Laos to farming parents. He was the second of six children, and the oldest son.
     

  • September 1975: Family moves to a city in Thailand and then to a refugee camp after Vang's father, Cher Vang, an infantry soldier, helps U.S. forces block the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War.
     

  • 1980: Family emigrates to St. Paul, where Vang and his older sister, Mai Vang, deliver Pioneer Press newspapers before school.
     

  • 1983-84: Vang attends Humboldt High School in St. Paul, receiving A's in social studies. As a teenager, he marries Say Xiong in a wedding arranged by his parents.
     

  • 1985: Vang and his family move to Stockton, Calif., where he attends Benjamin Franklin High School and founds the Hmong Club, becoming its first president.
     

  • 1989: At U.S. Army Basic Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Vang aims at 40 targets, hitting between 30 and 35 to earn a sharpshooter badge. He joins the California National Guard for six years.
     

  • 1990-95: Vang works as a teacher's aide for disabled students, volunteers at a Lao Family Community Center and becomes a truck driver, criss-crossing 48 states.
     

  • 1999: Family returns to St. Paul for better jobs and a lower cost of living.
     

  • Oct. 10, 2000: Vang's father dies. He promises to take care of his grieving siblings.
     

  • 2001: Vang lands a truck-driving job in Plymouth, working the night shift, mostly at a Daimler Chrysler plant that furnishes parts to dealers.
     

  • April 29, 2001: He pays a $328 fine in Hennepin County for catching 93 crappies over the fishing limit.
     

  • Dec. 24, 2001: Police respond to a 911 call from Say Xiong, who says Vang waved a gun at her and threatened her life during an argument about their pending separation. He spends Christmas in jail. She soon moves to Milwaukee with their five children.
     

  • April 7, 2002: Vang is fined $244 in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, for trespassing while deer hunting. A warrant is issued when he fails to appear in court or pay the fine.
     

  • April 30, 2003: Vang defaults on child support payments for three children of Youa Lee in Stockton.
     

  • Oct. 20, 2003: Vang puts down $5,000 in cash and agrees to pay $1,260 a month in a contract-for-deed deal on 40 acres of wooded land in Kanabec County between Mora and Hinckley, Minn., near the hamlet of Brook Park.
     

  • Sept. 14, 2004: Vang takes a second job driving a delivery truck for Number 1 Couriers in Edina.
     

  • Oct. 6, 2004: New wife Deu Khang gives birth to Vang's daughter.
     

  • Nov. 21, 2004: With Minnesota deer-hunting season winding down and the Wisconsin season opening, Vang heads 80 miles due east of his Kanabec County home. A confrontation between Vang and local hunters erupts. Court documents charge him with six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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