“Menasha Cops Out in Force”
This was the headline I first saw on Facebook. A friend had linked the (very vague) story that there were a lot of Menasha cops by the lake.
No other details at that time.
(Moments spent waiting. What is going on? Probably a false alarm.)
A few minutes later, it became clear that someone had gone on a shooting spree. Details were sketchy at first. All they said was that there were “Four dead, one in critical condition,” and that the shooting had happened on Trestle Trail.
(Do I know anyone who was involved? What happened?)
It wasn’t until the next morning that I knew what really happened. In the time that I had slept, the names of the victims had been released. Four dead, one wounded. My wife had been working all night, and the first thing she said when she came home was, “Hey, did your friend Rachel know the people killed in Menasha? She wrote about them on Facebook.”
(It is a small town. Oh God, do I know them?)
The shooter was a man in his late twenties who was (most likely) distraught over the end of his engagement a week previous. After an argument with his ex-fiancee, he went out into the bridge with two pistols and killed Jonathan Stoffel (37), his daughter Olivia Stoffel (11), and Adam Bentdahl (31). He shot Erin Stoffel (32) three times. She lived and told her two remaining children to run for safety and get help. By the time police arrived, the shooter had committed suicide.
(Stoffel…that name is familiar. I’ve been to their church. They know my friend Rachel. I must’ve met them.)
That is a rough approximation of how I spent Sunday night/Monday morning. Hearing about a shooting that took place ten minutes from where I grew up. Learning sketchy details as they came in. Worrying if I knew anyone involved.
The shooting occurred on Trestle Trail, a walking/biking bridge that spans Little Lake Butte des Morts. It is a lovely place to take a stroll during the spring and summer. I have always thought of it as a place of peace and contemplation. A place to reflect. I remember how I spent time there after several of my friends were in a serious car accident and after my grandmother died. It was a calm spot in the midst of a sea of turmoil. A place that gazes out over a tranquil lake. A place where you can still your mind.
It is difficult to know what to say when writing about this tragic event. I have read people talk about how gun laws should be changed, which just feels opportunistic and exploitive. I have also read people offer supposed words of comfort like “They are in God’s arms now,” but those words sound like hollow platitudes to me.
Personally, I am gripped with a sense of disbelief. Menasha and the surrounding Fox Cities have crime, but I cannot recall such a senseless incident ever happening while I lived there. It is as if a dreadful storm that has been looming nearby has finally rolled into town, bringing with it nothing but darkness.
But mostly I think about loss. The shooter walked onto that bridge and began firing because he was hurt and angry. Because of that, the Stoffels lost their father and daughter, and their mother is in the hospital recovering. The Bentdahls lost a son. Families and lives shattered for no reason. And I don’t know what to do or what to say.