By GRETCHEN EHLKE and JEFF BAENEN
A Wisconsin man suspected of killing four people may have tried to imitate the abduction last year of teenager Jayme Closs by shooting his way into the home of a family he didn’t know, authorities said Tuesday.
Ritchie German Jr. killed three of his family members at their home in Lafayette on Sunday before heading to another family’s home about 10 miles away in Lake Hallie, Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said at a news conference. He used a shotgun to blast his way inside that home, then shot and wounded a couple, Teng and Mai Chang Vang, and killed their 24-year-old daughter, Laile Vang, before killing himself.
Authorities said German left his car running with items inside that suggested similarities to the home invasion last October in which a man forced his way into the Closs’ home just 40 miles away.
Despite the apparent similarities in the attacks, authorities may never know exactly what led to Sunday’s, Kowalczyk said.
“What was the motive? Why did this happen? I don’t have the answer,” he said.
German had traded text messages with Laile Vang, but she apparently didn’t know him, Kowalczyk said. He said German asked her about a personal relationship, but that she texted back “who is this? I don’t know you.” He said there’s no evidence yet that they had ever met.
Kowalczyk said Ritchie German Jr. occasionally lived at the Lafayette home where he gunned down his 66-year-old mother, Bridget German, his 32-year-old brother, Douglas German, and his brother’s 8-year-old son, Calvin Harris. During an interview with The Associated Press, he described German Jr. as “a loner and drifter” who was often unemployed.
German Jr.’s father, Ritchie German Sr., told the Star Tribune that he was shocked to learn of the killings and that his son Ritchie had struggled with mental illness. He said his son lived with him from 2005 to 2014 and worked for just one year during that time, at a Menards warehouse. He said his son stayed in his bedroom most of that time.
Jayme Closs was abducted from her parents’ home last fall in Barron. She eventually escaped her abductor, Jake Patterson, who was sentenced to life in prison in May for kidnapping the 13-year-old and murdering her parents.