ANTIGO - Police Chief Eric Roller keeps his emotions pretty well in check. But as the Antigo Police Department break room fills with food and thank-you cards, Roller cracks—just a bit.
"Seeing that and seeing all the responses on Facebook, I mean, that's the part that chokes you up," Roller said in his office Thursday afternoon.
Just five days earlier, essentially the entire Antigo police force (and many other departments across northern Wisconsin) scrambled to stop a teenager from killing anyone at the high school's prom. Two party-goers were hurt, and the 18-year-old shooter, Jakob Wagner, was killed, but thanks to officers Andy Hopfensperger and Ryan Bula already at the scene, the threat ended there. Hopfensperger shot Wagner "multiple times,"according to court documents released earlier this week.
Based on protocol, Hopfensperger and Bula are on leave pending a state investigation. Their absence means long hours for a department of 15 temporarily down to just 13.
"It does put a lot of strain on everybody and especially with everything else that's going on, I think people have a lot of different feelings and emotions anyways, and we don't want to burn them out," Roller said. "[Hopfensperger] had a job to do and he did it, and i think we're all fortunate," Roller said. "Not personally going through an event like that, I don't know how I would react or how I would feel, but I think he's doing pretty good. He's got a lot of support."
People haven't just directed that support to Hopfensperger alone. Cards, cakes, and cookies addressed to the entire police department show up every day.
"The community's really stepped up," Roller said.
That includes community members like Ronald Welnetz.
"The Antigo Police Department probably prevented a big or greater catastrophe than what did happen," Welnetz said. "Every time something like this happens it opens people's eyes up."
The real estate broker put up a thank-you sign outside his Superior Street office this week. For Welnetz, it was a simple gesture.
"Antigo community's been like this forever," Welnetz said. "Helping each other out. If there's a catastrophe or sickness or benefits for cancer patients, whatever, that's always been huge."
A huge response from a small town, giving thanks to those who never ask for it.
"We did our job and we're trained to do that, but people really appreciate it and [they say], 'You did some great things'," Roller said. "[Hearing] how people really feel toward you? That's pretty neat."
Roller couldn't go into much detail regarding the state investigation, saying only that everything is in the Department of Criminal Investigation's hands. But Roller did confirm that there are several pieces of video from the shooting that the state is processing. The chief believes the video will help show that his officers' actions were justified.
When asked if the shooting would lead his department to look into getting body cameras for officers, Roller said it was worth considering.
"Any time you have any more recordings, it's probably more beneficial," Roller said. "You get the exact indication of what really went on."