MADISON - The husband of one of four people killed in a string of shootings by a suspect who is Hmong urged community members not to "get caught up in colors" in reacting to the attack.
Nengmy Vang, 45, is accused of launching a rampage that spanned three northern Wisconsin towns on Wednesday, killing his wife's divorce attorney, a police detective and two people at the bank where his wife worked.
"This person could've been any gender, any color, any religion and they could've acted in other ways of violence to make their point," Scott Sann wrote in an emotional letter posted on his employer's Facebook page. "Don't get trapped in the details."
Sann's wife, Sara Quirt Sann, was the attorney who died in the attack.
According to the U.S. Census, nearly 50,000 Hmong live in Wisconsin. Tensions between them and whites in the state's northern reaches have occasionally flared, most notably in 2004, when a Hmong hunter fatally shot six white hunters and wounded two more in northwestern Wisconsin.
The Hmong are mainly from the mountain regions of Laos, which borders Vietnam on the west. They began immigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s after the Vietnam War because had had helped the U.S. during the war. They settled mostly in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
That 2004 shooting of hunters took place hundreds of miles from the Wausau area. Nothing has emerged so far to suggest the shootings were motivated by anything more than Vang's anger toward his wife. The two are embroiled in a bitter divorce proceeding.
Vang's brother, Vajloogzeb Vaj, told The Associated Press that the Hmong population will come together to help the victims' families.
"I feel sorry for the families," he said.
Kahm Yang, board president of the Wausau Area Hmong Association, didn't return messages. Sann did not respond to phone messages from the AP.
Investigators have released few details about what happened during the shooting spree. They haven't officially identified Vang as the suspect. A person close to the investigation gave his name to the AP Friday on condition of anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak. Vang's divorce attorney, David Gardner Casey, didn't return messages Friday.
Police have said that the spree was sparked by a domestic dispute between Vang and his wife, Naly Vang. Nengmy Vang filed a petition to divorce her in 2015.
She continued to live in the couple's home during the divorce proceeding but he moved to an apartment. Vaj told the AP that his brother is an avid squirrel and deer hunter but showed signs of being mentally ill since he and his wife separated. Vaj said he hadn't spoken with his brother for weeks and he thinks he's become a loner. He once hit their mother "like a crazy person," Vaj said.
Court records show Nengmy Vang has struggled with debt as well as marital problems. He's been sued five times since 2009 by various lenders seeking thousands of dollars and had his wages garnished three times while he worked at Foot Locker; Coby Dogs, a Medford restaurant; the Marathon Cheese Corporation in Marathon City and the Kolbe and Kolbe Millwork Co. in Wausau. The couple was issued a garnishment notice to repay $9,370 to a credit union on Tuesday, a day before the shootings.
According to investigators, Nengmy Vang showed up at the Rothschild bank where his wife worked on Wednesday. It's unclear what happened, but he allegedly shot two workers, Dianne Look and Karen Barclay. Naly Vang managed to escape unhurt, Vaj said.
Nengmy Vang then traveled to nearby Schofield, where he shot Sara Quirt Sann in her office. He then barricaded himself in his Weston apartment, fatally shooting Everest Metro Police detective Jason Weiland as Weiland was setting up a perimeter. A standoff with police ended when officers shot Nengmy Vang and took him into custody.
Vaj said his brother called him from inside his apartment after he was shot to say goodbye. Vaj said he was so shocked that "I almost got a heart attack."
Vaj said doctors have told him his brother is expected to survive his wounds.