Updated: May 2, 6 p.m.
Tribal leaders in northeastern Wisconsin were in shock Sunday hours after a gunman opened fire at their casino complex, killing two people and wounding another in what witnesses described as a hailstorm of bullets.
Brown County Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Pawlak said the shooting at the Oneida Casino in Green Bay on Saturday night didn't appear to be a random attack.
“He was targeting a specific victim who was not there, but he decided to still shoot some of the victim's friends or co-workers, it appears,” Pawlak said at a news conference early Sunday. Police responding to the scene shot the gunman to death.
Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill told WLUK-TV on Sunday that he was in “disbelief" and called the shooting “scary.” He said the tribe prohibits firearms on its properties but that “(mass shootings are) kind of a regular thing in this country.”
Authorities have not released the identities of the gunman or his victims. The wounded person was being treated at a Milwaukee hospital, Pawlak said.
The attack happened around 7:30 p.m. in the restaurant at the casino complex operated by the Oneida Nation, whose reservation is located on the western side of Green Bay about 4 miles from Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. The complex includes a casino, conference center, hotel and restaurant. Between 150 and 200 people work there, tribal leaders said.
Jawad Yatim, a witness, said he saw at least two people shot.
“I know for sure two, because it happened right next to us, literally right next to us,” Yatim said. “But he was shooting pretty aggressively in the building, so I wouldn’t doubt him hitting other people. We got the hell out of there. Thank God we’re OK, but obviously we wish the best for everybody who’s been shot.”
Pawlak, the sheriff's office lieutenant, wasn’t sure if the shooter was a former restaurant employee but said “it appears there’s some relationship that had to do with employment.”
“Whether or not they all worked there, we’re still working on,” he said.
Gambler Max Westphal said he was standing outside after being evacuated from the building for what he thought was a minor issue.
“All of a sudden we hear a massive flurry of gunshots — 20 to 30 gunshots for sure,” Westphal told WBAY-TV. “We took off running towards the highway. ... There had to have been 50 cop cars that came by on the highway. It was honestly insane.”
Pawlak said authorities called for a “tactical alert” after receiving the report of an active shooter. That “brings every agency from around the area to the casino, to the Radisson,” he said of the large law enforcement presence.
Hill, the tribal chairman, told WLUK-TV that he feels security is tight in the casino but that the tribe may have to consider tougher protocols for the complex depending on investigators' findings.
Gov. Tony Evers issued a statement late Saturday saying he was “devastated” to hear about the shooting.
“Our hearts, thoughts, and support go out to the Oneida Nation, the Ashwaubenon and Green Bay communities, and all those affected by this tragedy.”
Evers, a Democrat, called a special legislative session on gun control in the fall of 2019. He proposed a so-called “red flag” law that would have allowed judges to take guns away from people deemed to be a danger, and a bill requiring a background check for almost all gun purchases. Republicans who control the Legislature refused to consider either measure.
Sen. Rob Cowles, a Republican who represents the Green Bay area, issued a statement saying the community has suffered a “traumatic event.”
“My heart goes out to those impacted by the shooting, to the Oneida Nation and to all of Northeast Wisconsin as we continue coping with this senseless violence,” he said. “Those victims and families of those killed and injured will remain in my thoughts and prayers.”
The Oneida is one of 11 tribes that operate casinos in Wisconsin under agreements with the state called compacts. Essentially, the tribes pledge a percentage of their gaming revenue to the state in exchange for the exclusive right to offer casino gambling.
Tribal gaming in Wisconsin generated nearly $1.3 billion in gross revenue in the 2018-2019 fiscal year but suffered deep losses in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
Oneida leaders said at a news conference Sunday afternoon they were “devastated” by the shooting. They declined to discuss any specifics about the investigation but said law enforcement authorities planned to release identities of those involved on Monday morning. Hill reiterated that the tribe will conduct a security review at the casino complex.
“We'll try to get a measurement of how we can improve," he said. “(But) things like this are pretty hard to stop.”
Behind Hill stood a placard that read “We are Oneida. People of peace.”
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