JS Archive

Nov 2007: Survivor recalls shootings

Mike Nichols Mike Nichols

Charlie Neitzel was at a party the night he was nearly killed by childhood friend Tyler Peterson. He recalls an argument, a threat to call the cops and Peterson’s reply: ‘I am the cops’

Charlie Neitzel shouldn’t really be here. Not according to cold logic.

According to that, the names of the murdered should number seven on the memorials people have erected in Crandon: the six Tyler Peterson gunned down when he went what Charlie calls “psycho” – and then Charlie himself.

Charlie told me Sunday he was supposed to be the last.

He lived only by pretending to die and, although he has no idea why he survived, some good is coming of it already.

He is here to tell about it.

“I haven’t had any dreams about it,” he said. “I don’t really think about it. I try not to.”

But he has talked to the victims’ families, who wanted to know if their kids suffered.

And, although he is still in considerable pain from three gunshots and five surgeries, he told the real story of Tyler Peterson – one that has already partially morphed into fiction in some quarters – in an interview.

What’s true is that for many years, Tyler Peterson was a friend.

“We were friends through grade school and high school a little bit,” said Charlie, 21.

Even after high school, they used to ice fish together. He and Aaron Smith, one of the victims, had actually chatted with Peterson for a couple hours while they sat in their trucks outside a Crandon bank just a couple nights before the killings.

The night it happened – Saturday, Oct. 6, and Sunday, Oct. 7 – Charlie had been elsewhere. He didn’t show up at the small party at Jordanne Murray’s house until probably after 2 a.m.

Two of his best friends, Bradley Schultz and Smith, were there. So were Katrina McCorkle, Lianna Thomas and Lindsey Stahl, who was only 14.

He wasn’t there but 15 or 20 minutes when Peterson showed up, saying he and Murray were supposed to hang out that night.

“She said, ‘Well, plans have changed and now I have different people over and I want you to leave,’ ” Charlie said.

Only Peterson didn’t want to leave.

“She said she was going to call the cops and he said, ‘I am the cops.’ ”

He started swearing at her, said Charlie, and some of the others yelled back, “telling him to leave, telling him that he was being a psycho, a stalker boyfriend, because he pretty much was.”

Charlie has read in the newspapers that “the reason he did it was because we were calling him names, like a ‘dirty pig’ or something. That’s the biggest crock of (expletive) I’ve ever heard.”

That never happened, he said.

Peterson “was a crazy psycho,” Charlie said, “when he came flying in that door.”

It was strictly a verbal altercation, he said, until Peterson pushed Murray and hit one of the other girls and then, before anyone else could intervene, ran out the door.

When he returned, we all know by know, he had an AR-15 rifle, and he kicked in the door.

What happened next, Charlie said, just seemed unreal, like it couldn’t be happening. Charlie was in the kitchen, but the house is wide open.

Tyler Peterson, a kid he’d known since fifth grade, a Forest County sheriff’s deputy who also worked as a cop, just started shooting.

And he never said a word.

“The whole time,” said Charlie, “he didn’t talk.”

It happened so quickly, nobody had time to even react.

Charlie said he can’t speak about everything. He lived in West Bend and attended St. Mary’s School through fourth grade. But he had been best friends with Bradley Schultz and Aaron ever since moving to Pickerel and starting in the Crandon-area schools in fifth grade. He knew almost everyone who was killed.

When their families ask if their kids died quickly, he said he tells the truth.

“All the parents, I can’t even imagine what is going through their minds if they didn’t know what really happened, didn’t know if their kids were slaughtered or if they got shot once, got killed instantly,” he said.

The truth is, he said, “one of the kids did kind of suffer a little bit. But everybody else was pretty much killed instantly.”

He himself, he said, was “terrified.”

Peterson shot him in the leg first, and he went down.

“I tried to stand up and my leg just, like, snapped . . . I was standing there on my one leg and I looked at him. I was screaming at him not to shoot me. I was like, ‘Tyler, There’s no reason you have to shoot. Don’t (expletive) shoot me! We’ve been friends forever.’ ”

When Peterson paused, Charlie said, he went for the gun – and Peterson shot him in the elbow.

“I fell on the ground. I curled up in the corner and I just played dead,” he said.

Peterson was probably 6 feet away when he shot him the last time, firing a round into his shoulder.

That time, Charlie said, he didn’t even move.

Not until Peterson turned around, reloaded and walked out the front door.

Emotionally, Charlie said he is doing OK so far.

Physically, there is enough pain to often bring tears. Half of his elbow is gone. He has a rod in his right leg that runs from his knee to his hip. He is in a wheelchair, and will be for the foreseeable future, although it now appears he will be able to walk regularly at some point. Unfortunately, he can’t even start physical therapy for six months, and probably won’t be able to return for a year to his job working on racing trucks at a body shop.

He wants everyone to know how thankful he is. Cards and e-mails have arrived from all over the world. Some say, “Glad you are alive”; some, “Praying for you,” and he appreciates that.

As for why Peterson decided to kill seven people – and succeeded in ending the lives of six – Charlie said he cannot know.

“I guess nobody will really know why he did it,” Charlie said. “The only person that can really know is him, I guess.”

Then again, maybe it’s simple.

“He’s a cold-blooded murderer,” said Charlie. “That’s all there is to it.”