Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An “end of innocence” & my thoughts after a deadly shooting in Wisconsin May 4, 2015

UPDATE THREE, May 6: A Facebook page, Hands Over the Fox, has been set up to unite the people of the Fox Valley in the aftermath of the tragic shootings. A National Day of Prayer Trestle Trail event is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the site of the tragedy. Click here to learn more about this community gathering to remember, demonstrate compassion and show strength. Attendees will gather on the Trestle Trail Bridge for 15 minutes of prayer. A potluck meal will follow at Fritse Park.

UPDATE TWO, May 5: A Go Fund Me website has now been established for the family of shooting victim Adam Bentdahl to help them deal with the financial burdens related to his death. Click here to support this family. I just learned of Minnesota connections. Adam was born on August 21, 1983, in Mankato, Minnesota, which is 40 miles from my community of Faribault. He has family (a grandmother in Hanska and a brother in White Bear Lake) in Minnesota.  Click here to read Adam’s obituary.

UPDATE, May 5: Calvary Bible Church in Neenah, Wisconsin, has set up a Stoffel Family Love Offering. Click here to see how you can support and donate to this family as they deal with the tragic deaths of Jon and Olivia. 

An edited image of a Wisconsin lake, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

An edited image of a Wisconsin lake, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I AWOKE TO A NIGHTMARE so vivid this morning that I can still feel the icy waters of the black lake suffocating, pulling my second daughter and me into her deep, dark depths. We are dropping farther and farther from the surface, sinking to our deaths while I cry for my daughter to let go because it is the only way I can save her. Even though I cannot swim, I am determined to reach the surface.

But she won’t release me, no matter how I plead and scream. I gasp for air. My wool pea coat weighs and tightens around me like a straightjacket. My girl still clings to me. There is nothing I can do. And then I awaken, feeling the need to suck in air. I am so shaken by this dream that I don’t even tell my husband about my nightmare.

Hours later my phone bings with a text from my daughter: “There was a shooting in Menasha last night.” She lives in nearby Appleton, works in the medical field in the Fox Valley region of eastern Wisconsin with her office based in Menasha. I text and ask if I can call. She calls me.

Four are dead including gunman Sergio Daniel Valencia del Toro, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran and college student, who reportedly randomly opened fire Sunday evening on people crossing the Fox Cities Trestle Trail bridge. A 33-year-old father, Jonathan Stoffel of Neenah, and his 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, are dead. Their wife/mother was shot multiple times and remains hospitalized in critical condition. Two other children in the family were unharmed.  Adam Bentdahl, 31, from Appleton was also killed. The shooter shot himself. There were 75-100 people in the park/trail area at the time of the shooting.

This is the type of tragedy that stuns you, that hits especially hard when your daughter tells you she has used this very trail, when you’ve dreamed only hours earlier of drowning with that dear daughter in a cold, dark lake. There is no logical connection, of course, between my nightmare and the tragic shooting in Menasha. Still, the coincidence raises goosebumps.

Today I feel a profound sense of sadness that a young family and a young man simply out for a Sunday evening walk should suffer such loss at the hands of a man who’d reportedly just argued with his ex-fiancee. I don’t understand this type of unprovoked violence. Why?

At a news conference on Monday, Dr. Ray Georgen, director of trauma services at Neenah Theda Clark Medical Center and on duty Sunday evening, spoke of young mother Erin Stoffel’s arrival with three gunshot wounds, life-threatening injuries that required immediate emergency surgery. But I was struck most by Dr. Georgen’s statement that the random shootings mark “the end of innocence” for the Fox Valley region. Menasha Police Chief Tim Styka later concurred, saying that “Times have kind of caught up to us in the Fox Valley.” Violence like this can happen anywhere, he explained. Now it’s happened in his community in eastern Wisconsin.

The two also emphasized the heroism of Erin Stoffel. Despite three gunshot wounds, she got herself and her two surviving children, ages five and seven, off the bridge. That act, Dr. Georgen says, shows the power of the human spirit, of a mother determined to protect and save her children. What strength. What courage. What love.

FYI: A Go Fund Me fundraising site has been set up for the Stoffel family as Erin, Ezra and Selah deal with the deaths of their loved ones.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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27 Responses to “An “end of innocence” & my thoughts after a deadly shooting in Wisconsin”

  1. I saw this on the news this morning and it gave me the willies and reading your post gave me the goose bumps. I do not understand this act of violence either. Just going about your day and then tragedy strikes. I think about how do you protect yourself because no one is exempt from these acts of violence anymore. It strikes right at the heart and darkens the whole world, especially that community and the people of that state. I am so saddened by the news lately I am finding it hard to watch more and more. I think about where we are going as a country, especially in how we act towards one another.

    • I am feeling the same as you. Just a few days ago in southwestern Minnesota, a farm couple was murdered in their home, their house set ablaze. Three men arrested.

    • Just does not make sense to me. How does someone do that type of harm to another person or persons. I am a survivor of a home invasion. Just a random act of violence.

      • Oh, my, I had no idea. I am thankful you are OK, physically, at least. How does one overcome this mentally? An uncle who lives in Minneapolis also survived a break-in, caught the burglar in action. Scary. I hope the perpetrator in your case was caught.

      • Mine was a unique situation in that I had someone stalking me for a few months. The police think it was the man stalking me because he knew and waited for everyone to leave before breaking into the house. The man was never caught. I still have my fair share of mental hurdles at times, especially settling into new places and trusting new people. Sorry to hear your uncle went through a similar experience. It is a SCARY experience!

      • To be stalked would be terribly frightening. My heart hurts for you that you’ve had to endure this. I am so sorry this man was not caught.

      • A good majority of the stalking took place while on the road driving. I worked with the local police and had my safe spots to pull into if I needed them since he tried to drive me off the road a few times. The most unnerving part of the experience is the not knowing who it is and you feel like you are being watched and do not know just who is doing the watching.

      • This sounds like something out of a horror story/film. I hope and pray this has all ended for you and that this evil man is now out of your life.

      • It ended years ago, but something that I will never forget. I am hyper aware and hyper vigilant at times.

      • I can understand your hyper awareness and vigilance. So thankful this ended years ago and that you are safe.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    All you can do is pray.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Once again, an example of man’s ability/freedom to choose: to share amazing good or inflict horrendous, long-lasting pain on another. We are all left with that empty question of “why?”…..prayers for everyone, for there’s no one who will read this and go forth w/o being changed.

  4. Jackie Says:

    So tragic and sad…Praying for this mother and her surviving children! Sometimes I feel like I’m no longer in America, this violence is getting too close and it’s very scary!!! Sorry about your dream, Im sure you were terrified, but somewhat relieved when you woke and realized it was just that….a dream.

    • Thank you, Jackie, for praying for Erin and her precious children.

      I understood the reason I dreamed this dream. I am actually surprised I didn’t dream about tornadoes last night as I watched a PBS show about tornadoes, which I fear.

  5. A chilling and tragic set of circumstances, Audrey, which can’t help but leave any thinking person shaken to the core.

  6. Marneymae Says:

    This country is in desperate need of skilled trauma counsellors
    Though in some way, that is like a bandage on a wound
    Still, a gaping need to be filled

  7. Barneysday Says:

    What’s not mentioned in these continuing sad stories of random murders around the country is the effect of widely available guns to anyone who breathes. As long as we continue to elect our inept state and federal legislators who lack the integrity and backbone to stand up to the NRA and stand for protections of average citizens, these senseless shootings, murders, and suicides will continue at an ever increasing rate. Although these stories are sad and pull at our hearts, we also need to look inward to take our share of the responsibility for these senseless acts.

    • There are so many facets to a situation like that which happened Sunday in Menasha. And the point you raise here will always be one that will be debated.

      • Barneysday Says:

        Thanks for your comment. Simply put, if guns were not so readily available, chances are good this tragedy would not have occurred.

  8. One thing that I have to disagree with is the blaming of guns, again, as being the root cause of these tragedies. Should we stop selling pressure cookers because the Boston Marathon bombers used them to kill and maim people out to enjoy a sporting event? Or should we stop selling fertilizer because the Oklahoma City bombers used it to kill so many innocents? It is not the tool that kills, it is the perpetrator who does the killing. There are so many ways to kill and injure if one has a mind to do it. Poison is another way to kill many people, axes, bats and knives kill people, is there a public outcry to ban axes, bats and knives because of it? No. There are a million times more responsible gun owners in this country than there are psychopaths with access to firearms. I personally DO NOT own a firearm, but I fully support the second amendment of our Constitution.

  9. hotlyspiced Says:

    Absolutely shocking. Like the suicidal co-pilot who deliberately crashed a plane full of innocent people into a mountain, I don’t know why these wounded people with an axe to grind have to exact revenge on innocent people. What a shocking story and how incredible is the mother who despite horrific injuries, powered on to remove her children from danger. I believe in dreams and have heard stories of several people who have dreamed of their loved ones at a time when they’re in some sort of strife or danger xx


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