CRANDON, Wis. – A 20-year-old police officer who shocked this small northeastern Wisconsin community when he fired 30 rounds from an AR-15 rifle in the home of his ex-girlfriend, killing her and five others, took refuge in a friend’s nearby log cabin for hours before he died in a police standoff – the final chapter of a bloody rampage that was only starting to come into focus Monday, police and witnesses said.

It began when Tyler Peterson, a deputy of the Forest County Sheriff’s Office and part-time officer with the Crandon Police Department, showed up shortly after 2:45 a.m. CDT Sunday at the home of Jordanne Murray, 18, and began fighting with her and six other young people who were gathered there, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said at a Monday press conference at Crandon High School.

Infuriated, Peterson went outside to retrieve a rifle from his truck. He then forced himself back into the home, Van Hollen said, where he began shooting. The victims and one survivor were all between the ages of 14 and 20.

“We are in shock and disbelief that he would do such terrible things,” Peterson’s family said in a statement released Monday. “This was not the Tyler we knew and loved.”

Neither Van Hollen nor police could say what had prompted the fight, but Crandon Police Chief John Dennee told reporters Peterson had been romantically involved with Murray in the past, and friends said Peterson had been frustrated that he couldn’t get her back.

“They had gone back and forth,” Dennee said of the relationship between Peterson and Murray.

The gruesome murders, which stunned this low-income, isolated community, including Peterson’s family, have raised questions about how someone capable of committing such a crime could have been hired as a police officer.

Dennee said Peterson underwent a background check and police training before he was hired, as part of the state’s guidelines. But he said Peterson did not undergo a psychological evaluation because none was required in Wisconsin.

Peterson was a member of the Forest County Sheriff’s SWAT team, Dennee said. The AR-15 rifle Petterson used was the weapon that his officers carry.

Van Hollen said that state investigators were taking the lead in the probe because of Peterson’s connections with the Crandon Police Department and Forest County Sheriff’s office.

When Peterson left Murray’s white wood house on North Hazeldell Avenue, he encountered Greg Carter, a fellow Crandon Police officer who had been called to the scene, and began shooting at him. Carter was injured when one of his car windows shattered, spraying glass all around. Peterson then fled.

While it’s unclear how much time he spent on the road, Dennee and Forest County District Attorney Leon Stenz said they spoke with Peterson by phone on separate occasions while he was driving.

Stenz said Peterson was “calm” and that he tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a settlement.

Eventually, Peterson headed down Gibson Lane, a narrow road that cuts through farmland in Argonne, a town seven miles outside of Crandon.

At the end of the road, Peterson steered his truck onto the dirt path that leads to a wood cabin, nestled among pine trees, passing a yard strewn with cars and another home.

Matt Carothers said Monday that he lived in the cabin and that the nearby home belongs to his mother, Mary Kegley and her husband, Mike Kegley.

Carothers, who was wearing a baseball hat, jeans and a worn look on his face as he drove from the home Monday evening, said Peterson was a friend of his and that he came to him seeking refuge.

Carothers would not say what Peterson said about the shootings, but he said that he and others who assembled in the cabin after Peterson arrived did not fear for their lives.

“It was not a hostage situation,” said Carothers, who said Peterson spent “hours” at the cabin.

Mary Kegley said during a phone interview that she and her husband were among those also in the cabin during that time.

Mike Kegley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Peterson kept his rifle with him and told them he had gone to Murray’s house to try to patch things up with her, but that he faced ridicule when he arrived, and that made him snap.

Dorothy Kegley, Mike Kegley’s mother, said she and other family members watched from the Kegleys’ home as a SWAT team engaged in an hours-long standoff that ended early Sunday afternoon.

Peterson died from a gunshot wound, Van Hollen said, although he said it was not yet clear whether Peterson shot himself or was hit by police fire. He said autopsy results would reveal what happened.

The incident sent ripples of shock, anger and grief throughout Crandon, a small town of less than 2,000.

“There is nothing that happened before or after yesterday’s events that has given any insight into why,” the Peterson family said in a statement that was read at Monday’s press conference by Bill Farr, a local pastor.

“I’m afraid I’d have nothing good to say about him after what he did,” Steven Peterson, Peterson’s father, said as he stood in the door of his home Monday morning, his eyes bleary from no sleep, when asked to comment on Peterson. He said he was horrified by what Peterson had done.

The other victims were Katrina McCorkle, 18, Leanna Thomas, 18, Bradley Schultz, 20, Aaron Smith, 20, and Lindsey Stahl, 14.

Charlie Nietzel, 19, was wounded during the shooting spree and was being treated at Marshfield hospital. Carla David, a hospital spokeswoman, said Nietzel had sustained two gunshot wounds and that his condition had been upgraded from critical to serious.

School called off

School was canceled Monday, and friends and family members sought comfort in a nearby church, where school counselors, coaches and other professionals were on hand to assist with the pain.

Farr, the pastor, said it was a tight-knit town where everyone knows everyone else, and that Peterson was in fact related to some of his victims.

Melisssa Flannery, a 14-year-old with a ponytail and braces, said she was friends with Lindsay Stahl, whom she described as a bubbly vegetarian and staunch environmentalist. Flannery said Stahl worked with Murray at the Eat and Treat, a 1950s style frozen yogurt hamburger joint around the corner from Murray’s home.

Their deaths, Flannery said, had left her feeling numb.

Ashley Sheldon, 14, who said she had known Stahl since pre-school, trembled with anger.

“I don’t believe that all these innocent people should have gotten hurt because of one stupid relationship,” said Sheldon.

Crandon Mayor Gary Bradley said the community had never before experienced such a blow. Tears filled his eyes as Bradley, an elderly man who spent years as a logger, tried to put on a strong face for reporters.

“I’m a tough old lumberjack and look at me,” he said as he gave into tears.

But Bradley said the community was determined to survive the tragedy.

“We want to heal all wounds,” he said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.