Friday, July 23, 2021

'Nothing ever happens in Franksville': Racine County gas station shootings were a sudden, random outburst of violence in quiet community

From JSOnline:

Sophie CarsonEvan Frank
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A Pilot Travel Center, 13712 Northwestern Ave., Franksville, is seen Thursday, July 15, 2021. The gas station is located just off Interstate 94 in rural Racine County. A Hartland man shot and killed 22-year-old Anthony "Nino" Griger of Elkhorn while Griger was pumping gas Tuesday morning. He also attempted three carjackings and shot at an undercover officer at a gas station two miles away, injuring him, before shooting himself in the head.

It would all be over within 8 minutes.

The July 13 shooting rampage that left a 22-year-old gas station patron and the gunman dead, and an undercover officer injured, was a sudden outburst of violence in a typically quiet area of rural Racine County.

The event sent shockwaves across southeast Wisconsin: from the tiny community of Franksville where the shootings occurred, to the Hartland apartment complex where the suspect lived, to the Franklin school district where the victim attended high school just four years earlier.

Nearly two weeks later, key questions remain about why 32-year-old John R. McCarthy tried to carjack three cars across two gas stations, shooting Anthony “Nino” Griger of Elkhorn and a still-unidentified investigator from the Racine County Sheriff’s Office in the process.

But the details that have emerged depict a chaotic scene. Gunshots disrupting a routine Tuesday morning. McCarthy’s desperate attempts to steal three vehicles. A brief search for additional gunmen.

More:Authorities identify the victim, suspect from Tuesday's gas station shootings in Racine County

Chain of events began with fire alarm at Hartland apartment complex

For the residents of Arbor Valley Apartments in Hartland, the day began unexpectedly.

Around 6:45 a.m. or earlier, someone pulled a fire alarm at the complex. The call never made it to the fire department, as a building manager noticed there were no flames and turned the alarm off, according to Hartland Fire Chief Torin Misko.

It’s assumed that McCarthy, a resident, pulled the alarm. When everyone evacuated, he was gone, a neighbor said.

From there, it’s unclear what led McCarthy to the Pilot Travel Center, just off Interstate 94 in Racine County.

Situated at the County Road K exit, the gas station is also a truck stop and has an Arby’s restaurant and drive-thru.

Once he stopped there, McCarthy “lied in wait” for the “right opportunity” to shoot a patron filling his tank with gas, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said at a Racine County Board meeting.

A Pilot Travel Center, 13712 Northwestern Ave., Franksville, is seen Thursday, July 15, 2021. The gas station includes an Arby's restaurant and a truck stop. A Hartland man shot and killed 22-year-old Anthony "Nino" Griger of Elkhorn while Griger was pumping gas Tuesday morning.

That person happened to be Griger, who had no connection to McCarthy, according to authorities.

After shooting him, McCarthy looked through Griger’s pockets for car keys. He tried to drive the car away but could not operate it, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Then he tried to carjack someone else driving a white pickup, according to emergency radio audio provided by Broadcastify. That person drove away, and he fired several rounds at the truck.

The 911 call at the Pilot station came in around 7:33 a.m.

Callers reported the gunman took off in a light blue SUV.

“When he realized there was no other victim that he could attack, he got back into his vehicle and headed eastbound on Highway K,” Schmaling said.

Farm fields line the two miles of country highway between the Pilot station and the place McCarthy would stop next: a Mobil station at the edge of the small commercial area of Franksville, a community that is really part of Caledonia

The Mobil station, located at 10616 Northwestern Ave., is one of the first businesses McCarthy would have encountered as he drove east. Across the street is a popular breakfast spot, The Meadows Family Restaurant, and a laundromat.

As police squads were flooding into the Pilot station, McCarthy was just arriving at Mobil. He walked up to a car and tried to carjack it, but an undercover officer on his way to work was inside, authorities have said.

“This individual," Schmaling said of McCarthy, "it’s clear to me after watching the (surveillance) video, had no idea who he is about to encounter."

Wearing plainclothes and in an unmarked car, the officer exchanged gunfire with McCarthy.

Both were struck by shots. Then McCarthy shot himself in the head, the Department of Justice has said. The department's Division of Criminal Investigation is handling the investigation of the officer-involved shooting.

That 911 call came in around 7:41 a.m.

From there, dispatchers were directing a deluge of police squads and emergency vehicles between the two gas stations.

Roads were blocked off. The Pilot station was shut down and patrons evacuated. McCarthy and the officer were taken to a Racine hospital.

Officers had to clear both sites, making sure there were no additional victims or shooters. The Mobil station, which is run by Franksville Oil and LP Gas, has several out-buildings on its property, including a car wash, garages and a flooring business.

As police reviewed security footage at Pilot, they noticed a man in a gray shirt running away from the station shortly after shots were fired. Could it be another gunman? Officers started looking for someone that matched his description.

Soon, an officer radioed in: We have the guy. He wasn’t a suspect, but simply ran for cover upon hearing the shots.

Griger would be pronounced dead at the scene, while McCarthy was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Schmaling, the sheriff, said he believes the officer, who has not been publicly named, prevented “more of a mass shooting.”

“This maniac would’ve gone on another rampage," he said. "He just shot a 22-year-old young man, executed, and he was going to go right down the line.” 

The Mobil gas station at 10616 Northwestern Ave. in Franksville is seen Thursday, July 15, 2021. A Hartland man who killed a patron at a nearby gas station then tried to carjack an undercover officer at the Mobil station died from his injuries after he shot himself in the head and was also shot by the officer.

Shooter acted erratically at tanning salon days earlier

Little is known publicly about what drove McCarthy on such a rampage.

But just three days prior to the shooting, a Hartland police report indicates he was exhibiting erratic and aggressive behavior.

McCarthy received a municipal disorderly conduct ticket for harassing an employee July 10 at Bronzer Image Tanning salon, 418 Merton Ave., Hartland.

According to the police report, McCarthy went to the tanning salon at 3:45 p.m. He tanned for 15 minutes, walked out of the changing room and asked a female employee when the business closed.

When told it closed at 4 p.m., McCarthy charged at the woman and said in a firm, loud voice, “Take me home.” The woman screamed and told McCarthy to get away from her. She ran to the back of the store where she reached a storage space.

The woman noticed McCarthy left the salon and was headed to his vehicle. After noticing two people in front of the tanning salon, she “begged them to come inside” to help her.

“I was shaking and hysterical with tears running down my face because I knew he was going to hurt me,” the woman said in the report. 

The two people she’d asked for help said McCarthy waited in his car for a few minutes, then drove away quickly, trying to look inside the salon as he passed.

Police contacted McCarthy after the incident. McCarthy said he was being an “a--” and he thought the employee was “hot.”

A police officer told McCarthy not to return to the tanning salon and issued the ticket.

Aside from a 2017 speeding ticket and the salon incident, Hartland police said they had few, if any, run-ins with McCarthy.

Neighbors in his Hartland apartment complex said that McCarthy mostly kept to himself. He rarely emerged from his apartment and usually had the blinds drawn around his home. 

The complex, which was built less than a decade ago, is quiet but not far from downtown. Units go for more than $1,100 a month.

McCarthy was a 2007 graduate of Arrowhead High School and grew up in the Oconomowoc area, where his parents still live.

A childhood friend who spoke with the Journal Sentinel and asked not to be named said McCarthy was “quiet and a little odd, but still a normal kid." He said the two used to go fishing together and that McCarthy was always willing to help out a friend.

McCarthy’s parents directed all media inquiries to their attorney, who declined to comment.

Quiet Franksville community reacts to sudden violence

The small community of Franksville was rattled by the burst of violence.

While it’s not too far from Milwaukee or Racine, the community has a distinctly small-town feel: one stoplight, a handful of businesses, a diner where everyone knows the waitresses by name.

Wes Dresen, a local resident, was filling up at the Mobil station two days after the shooting. He said the events were troubling.

“Nothing ever happens in Franksville," he said. "It’s a very quiet community.” 

At the same time, he knows it was a random occurrence.

“It’s not like it’s going to keep happening,” he said.

The storefront for the Mobil gas station at 10616 Northwestern Ave., Franksville is seen Thursday, July 15, 2021. A Hartland man who killed a patron at another gas station then tried to carjack an undercover officer at the Mobil station died from his injuries after he shot himself in the head and was also shot by the officer.

Dresen has a permit to carry a gun  but doesn’t usually have one with him. He said if he’d been at the gas station that morning he could have been killed too. 

And he’s grateful the officer happened to be there to stop McCarthy from potentially going across the street to The Meadows restaurant and shooting everyone inside. It would have been busy at the time with the breakfast crowd. 

But he clarified: The officer isn’t a hero because of his law enforcement status. It’s because of what he did.

The distinction has sparked some discussion in Racine County.

Schmaling, speaking to the County Board of Supervisors the evening of the shooting, said the case was an example of why the board should not cut funding to law enforcement as it considers the budget.

“As you prepare your budget, please look at these situations," he said. "This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the training comes into play. This is where the equipment comes in handy, if I may, right?” 

He brought up the idea of having citizens make traffic stops and called it “insane and idiotic” and “ridiculous.”

handful of U.S. cities have considered limiting the reasons an officer could pull over someone. In Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, unarmed civilians will handle minor traffic violations following the passage of a police reform bill this May.

A supervisor who has advocated for community policing strategies then told the Racine Journal Times he was “flabbergasted” by the comments and what he saw as a political move following a tragedy.

State Rep. Robert Wittke, R-Racine, who was eating breakfast at The Meadows restaurant a few days after the shooting with a group of local leaders, lauded the officer who stopped the gunman.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our law enforcement,” he said.

Community rallies around victims

The Racine County Sheriff’s Office said the officer suffered multiple gunshot wounds that fractured his pelvis.

On Tuesday the officer was released from the hospital. "Hundreds of law enforcement officers" escorted him along the route to the sheriff's office in a procession, the department said in a news release.

His injuries are not life-threatening, and he is expected to make a full recovery.

Sgt. Michael Luell has said the department has no plans to release the officer’s name because he has asked them to keep it private. The state Department of Justice has named officers in similar incidents in the past.

Schmaling said the officer was a 21-year veteran of the department who was working on a “very special assignment.”

“I can tell you he is an outstanding investigator. He’s done a great job in bringing some of the most ruthless criminals to justice in our community,” Schmaling told the county board.

A gunman killed Anthony F. Griger, 22, of Elkhorn execution style while filling his car with gas Tuesday in Racine County. Authorities provided an undated photo of Griger when they identified him.

Meanwhile, the family of Anthony “Nino” Griger has witnessed a massive outpouring of support following his untimely death.

Griger, who graduated from Franklin High School in 2017, married young. He often posted pictures with his wife on his Instagram account, and less than a month ago he posted a “throwback” of the two on Summerfest grounds. In the caption, he wrote that he couldn’t wait to go to festivals with her again this year.

A spokesman for Franklin Public Schools expressed condolences on behalf of the district.

“We are saddened for the members of our community who know him, love him, went to school with him, and grew up with him,” spokesman Chad Kafka said.

His family has not responded to interview requests from the Journal Sentinel and has asked for privacy through a sheriff’s office statement.

GoFundMe page for Griger’s family has raised over $30,000 since it was created last week.

“Nino was a good kid, funny with a sharp wit,” one donor commented on the page.

The relative who created the page, Sandy Halvorsen, thanked those who had donated.

“Thank you for the outpouring of support and generosity. There are no words to express the gratitude felt during this difficult time,” she said. “It's unbelievable.”

Erik Hanley, Samantha Hendrickson, Elliot Hughes and Joe Taschler of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Contact Sophie Carson at (414) 223-5512 or Follow her on Twitter at @SCarson_News.


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