Gunman charged with killing three in Wisconsin shooting

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Map of the Menominee River.
Image: Kmusser.

Scott J. Johnson, 38, of Kingsford, Michigan was charged on Wednesday with killing three teenagers in a shooting on the Menominee River near Niagara, Wisconsin. The charges consist of three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Authorities say that Johnson went to the popular bathing spot near the East Kingsford Railroad Bridge on July 31 and opened fire with a military-style rifle, killing three and injuring one.

The Associated Press reports that he faces life in prison without parole if convicted; Wisconsin does not have the death penalty. However, as one of the bodies was found on the Michigan side of the border, he could potentially face charges there, or perhaps even in federal court. He is being represented by a public defender, Len Kachinsky.

Local teens said Johnson was often seen at the site, but mostly kept to himself. On July 31, he emerged from the woods wearing camouflage clothing and opened fire without saying a word. Johnson fled and surrendered the next day after a multi-agency manhunt. Johnson had been accused of a sexual assault, and his mother speculated he may have panicked after hearing police wanted to speak with him.

In a confession to police, Johnson said the shooting was set in motion when he lured a woman to the bridge the day before and sexually assaulted her. Worried that he would be arrested, Johnson returned to the woods, planning to ambush law enforcement officers coming to find him. After he spent a night in the woods and no officers came, he returned home at 10 a.m. local time on July 31, asked his mother if police had been looking for him, then left at 3:00 p.m.

He reportedly said that he then got his weapons and returned to the woods. He planned to wait for the teens to reach the Michigan side of the river so he could kill them all and use them as "bait" to lure police into his ambush. However, Spigarelli and Pohlson unexpectedly approached his position, and he said he felt trapped and so opened fire. Spigarelli and Pohlson were both shot in the head and died instantly. Johnson then reloaded and fired across the river, killing Bryan Mort.

His mother has said that Johnson's wife left with their kids, and he had been living with his mother since 2001. She said he was honorably discharged from the military in 1994 and had been unemployed. The Detroit Free Press reported that he had been planning the ambush for years.