LAKE HALLIE, Wis. – A man who killed three of his family members then blasted his way into a Wisconsin home and killed a woman may have been imitating the abduction last year of teenager Jayme Closs.
Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk of Chippewa County said Tuesday that investigators may never know exactly what led to the weekend attacks. He said Ritchie German Jr., 33, killed his mother, brother and nephew and later killed a 24-year-old woman at another home before killing himself.
It's possible German was trying to kidnap the woman, Laile Vang, as Jake Patterson did with Closs, Kowalczyk said.
German shot Vang in the head Sunday night in Lake Hallie after shooting her parents Teng Vang, 51, and Mai Chang Vang, 39, in the hands, Kowalczyk said.
In tracking the van police say German used to get to the Vangs' home, officers arrived at the home of German's mother in Lafayette to find three people dead of gunshots to the head: his mother, Bridget A. German, 66; his brother, Douglas A. German, 32; and Douglas' son, Calvin B. Harris, 8. Kowalczyk said German's family members were probably killed Saturday.
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German used a shotgun to blast his way into the Vangs' home, the sheriff said. Authorities also say German left his car running with items inside that suggested similarities to the Closs case. They wouldn’t elaborate on those items.
“Why is he going armed to a residence he’s never been to before? To our knowledge, it’s similar to the Closs situation,” Kowalczyk said. “I’m not saying that was the motive, but it is just unlikely that some of the same incidents up in Barron County happened in Chippewa County."
German had sent Vang text messages seeking a personal relationship, but she texted back saying she didn’t know him, Kowalczyk said.
Family members described German as a "troubled individual" and a loner who had no friends, the sheriff said. He lived at his mother's house in Lafayette off and on since 2004, and he was unemployed.
His only court case was a 2006 disorderly conduct charge for which he served a year of probation. In that case, German's mother reported that he pointed a gun at his brothers and threatened them.
Ritchie German used his brother Douglas German's 2016 Kia Sorento minivan to drive to the Vangs' home, Kowalczyk said. Douglas owned all the guns used in the shooting.
Four other people were inside the Vangs' home when police say German blasted his way into the home, including three children and one adult. They were hiding as the shooting took place and were not injured, authorities said.
Laile Vang's parents each needed an arm amputated because of the shooting wounds, Lake Hallie Police Chief Cal Smokowicz said.
Multiple people called 911 when German entered the Vangs' home, including neighbors, Kowalczyk said.
Investigators found 10 spent shotgun shells at the Vangs' home, Chief Deputy Chad Holum said.
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And at the Lake Hallie home, German's family members were shot with a handgun, Kowalczyk said.
Bridget German was shot in the bathroom and dragged into another room in the basement, he said. Douglas German and Calvin were shot in the kitchen and wrapped in sleeping bags and taken to the master bedroom.
"I'm assuming that Ritchie stayed at the residence Friday night and Saturday and, again, used that bedroom to sleep in," Kowalcyzk said. "That's just my assumption."
Ritchie German had excuses for his family's absence Saturday. Bridget German's employer at a grocery store had called asking why she didn't come into work, and he called back saying she'd been hospitalized. And when neighborhood kids went to the Lafayette home to ask Calvin to come outside to play, Ritchie German told them Calvin was at the store with his grandmother.
Autopsies were to be conducted Tuesday in Minnesota.
German's father, Ritchie German Sr., told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he believes his son had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Bridget and Ritchie German Sr. divorced in 2015 and German Sr. became estranged from the family. He lives in North Prairie in Waukesha County.
He said his son Douglas worked at SFR Industries, a plastic extrusions company, and Ritchie Jr. worked for just one year at a Menards warehouse but was unemployed otherwise.
Jake Patterson also used a shotgun in his assault on Jayme Closs' home in Barron, about 50 miles from the scene of Sunday's shootings. He set out to kidnap Jayme after watching her board a school bus one morning. In the early hours of Oct. 15, he approached the family’s home, blasted a shotgun through the front door, killing Jayme's father, James, then fatally shooting her mother, Denise, after she hid with her daughter in a bathtub.
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He bound the 13-year-old with black tape, dragged her out of the house and held her captive for 88 days in his home in northern Wisconsin before she escaped.
Patterson, who is now serving a life sentence in a New Mexico prison where he was transferred this month, visited the Closs home twice before the kidnapping and murders, and worked meticulously to avoid leaving any trace of evidence. He shaved his head and face to ensure his DNA would not be found at the scene. He also made modifications to the car, disabling the dome light and replacing the rear license plate with a stolen one.
Holum said if abduction was intended in Sunday's slayings, “it did not work out for him.”
Contributing: Haley BeMiller, Green Bay Press Gazette; The Associated Press. Follow Sophie Carson on Twitter: @SCarson_News
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Jayme Closs: Was gunman copying Jake Patterson in deaths of 4?