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Terry Michael RATZMANN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Shooting at church service
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: March 12, 2005
Date of birth: 1950
Victims profile: Pastor Randy Gregory, 50 / James Gregory, 17 / Harold Diekmeier, 74 / Gloria Critari, 55 / Bart Oliver, 15 / Richard Reeves, 58 / Gerald Miller, 44 (members of the Living Church of God)
Method of murder: Shooting (9mm handgun)
Location: Brookfield, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day
 
 
 
 
 
 

photo gallery

 
 
 
 
 
 

Terry Michael Ratzmann was an American mass murderer who killed seven members of the Living Church of God before committing suicide at a Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin, United States in 2005.

Background

Previously living with his mother and sister, Ratzmann was known as an avid gardener who often shared his homegrown produce with the church congregation. On the verge of losing his job as a computer technician with a placement firm, Ratzmann was known to suffer from bouts of depression, and was reportedly infuriated by a sermon the minister had given two weeks earlier.

The shooting

Ratzmann had left the Sheraton Hotel building twenty minutes earlier, and then returned carrying a 9mm handgun, and then fired 22 rounds into the Living Church of God congregation, killing the minister and six others including the minister's son. Four others were wounded; one critically. Ratzmann shot and killed himself midway through the second out of three magazines

Victims

  • Pastor Randy Gregory, 50

  • James Gregory, 17

  • Harold Diekmeier, 74

  • Gloria Critari, 55

  • Bart Oliver, 15

  • Richard Reeves, 58

  • Gerald Miller, 44

Aftermath

During the police search of the house that Ratzmann shared with his mother and sister, a .22 rifle, ammunition and 3 computers were taken away.

The March 13 autopsy revealed that Ratzmann was suffering from Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a mild congenital heart abnormality and was missing part of three fingers on his left hand, the result of a much earlier injury.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Terry Ratzmann

On March 12, 2005 44-year old Terry Ratzmann entered the room at the Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin, where his Milwaukee congregation of the Living Church of God was holding a church service.

Ratzmann had left the building twenty minutes earlier, and now returned carrying his 9mm handgun and fired 22 rounds into the congregation killing the minister and six others including the minister's son.

During the shooting he reportedly spoke aloud to the congregation, telling them that he had brought 3 clips of ammunition and intended to kill the entire congregation. Ratzmann shot and killed himself midway through the second clip.

Previously living with his mother and sister, Ratzmann was known as an avid gardener who often shared his homegrown produce with the church congregation. On the verge of losing his job as a computer technician with a placement firm, Ratzmann was known to suffer from bouts of depression, and was reportedly infuriated by a sermon the minister had given two weeks earlier.

Victims

  • Pastor Randy Gregory, 50

  • James Gregory, 17

  • Harold Diekmeier, 74

  • Gloria Critari, 55

  • Bart Oliver, 15

  • Richard Reeves, 58

  • Gerald Miller, 44

Aftermath

During the police search of the house that Ratzmann shared with his mother and sister, a .22 rifle, ammunition and 3 computers were taken away.

The March 13 autopsy revealed that Ratzmann was suffering from Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a mild congenital heart abnormality and was missing part of three fingers on his left hand, the result of a much earlier injury.

 
 

Gunman kills seven, then self, at Wisconsin hotel

Ventura County Star (CA) -

March 13, 2005

BROOKFIELD, Wis. -- A man neighbors described as quiet and devout opened fire on a group of men, women and children attending a weekly church service Saturday at a Brookfield, Wis., hotel, killing eight people -- including himself -- and seriously wounding four others. "He planned to shoot us all," said Chandra Frazier, a woman attending the Living Church of God gathering.

 
 

Hotel gunman who killed 7 upset about sermon, losing job

Seattle Times, The (WA) -

March 14, 2005

BROOKFIELD, Wis. - In a humble brown house outside Milwaukee, 44-year-old Terry Ratzmann lived with his Venus' flytraps, his trout, which he raised in the basement and periodically ate for dinner, his computers, his mother and his demons.

Ratzmann learned recently that he might lose his job as a computer technician. Then, last month, the leader of Ratzmann's church warned in a sermon of pending financial ruin ? that a "colossal financial iceberg" was going to "sink" America.

On Saturday, Ratzmann fired 22 bullets during a service here, killing seven members of his church before taking his own life. Police on Sunday stressed that the investigation was in its infancy and that they did not yet understand his motive. But church members, investigators and acquaintances said they feared the specter of financial collapse may have pushed Ratzmann ? already known as an eccentric and a depressive loner ? over the edge.

If that's what was behind the shootings, church leaders said, it would represent a wild overreaction to the message delivered by the evangelical leader of the Living Church of God, Roderick C. Meredith.

"I don't know of anything that would trigger this sort of response," said J.D. Crockett III, director of business operations at the church's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. "Our sermons are played in congregations all over the world. I know of no outcry over this one."

 
 

Church shooter an 'average Joe' Neighbors say man was quiet and attended services every Saturday

Houston Chronicle

March 14, 2005

NEW BERLIN, WIS. - When chipmunks got into Terry Ratzmann's garden, he set up traps to catch them. But his neighbor said he kept the animals alive and let them loose somewhere else.

"He couldn't even kill a chipmunk. He was that kind of individual," said Gene Herrmann, who lived next door to Ratzmann for about 30 years.

The man police say killed seven people and then himself during a church service Saturday was described by neighbors as quiet and devout.

He liked to tinker about his house and garden, said Shane Colwell, another neighbor who knew Ratzmann for about a decade.

Ratzmann, 44, lived with his mother and sister in a modest, two-story brown home about two miles from the suburban Milwaukee hotel where police say he opened fire during a service of the Living Church of God.

Ratzmann, a computer technician, went to church every Saturday, Colwell said, and had lived in the same house his entire life. He was so devout that he skipped Colwell's wedding because it was on a Saturday, the same day as services at the church, which belonged to a denomination focused on "end-time" prophecies.

"He wasn't a dark guy. He was average Joe," Colwell said. "It's not like he ever pushed his beliefs on anyone else."

 
 

Man seeking answers after child shot at church service

News-Sentinel, The (Fort Wayne, IN)

March 15, 2005

Three days after an acquaintance walked in to a church service and allegedly shot several people, including his 10-year-old daughter, a Fort Wayne man remains puzzled about why it happened." I can't say it gets easier every day," Scott Maughmer said. His daughter, Lindsay Maughmer, was shot in the hip. His former mother-in-law was killed during the Saturday shooting at a Living Church of God service in Brookfield, Wis.

 
 

Motive remains unclear in church-service shootings

Duluth News-Tribune (MN)

March 15, 2005

The calls came swiftly, six of them in all. "My friend, she's lying on the floor! I think she's dead!" one woman, identified as Carol, told a 911 dispatcher. "Oh, this is awful. This is a massacre." Police on Monday released recordings of the frantic calls placed as Saturday's shooting rampage at a Living Church of God service unfolded in Brookfield, a Milwaukee suburb.

 
 

Church victim hit four times

The Daily Telegraph

March 17, 2005

Chicago: Partial autopsy results released for seven victims of a US church service shooting rampage showed the gunman hit three people with multiple shots . including one man who was hit with four bullets.

Authorities say Terry Ratzmann, 44, fired 22 bullets within a minute at the Living Church of God's service at the Sheraton hotel in Brookfield, Milwaukee, killing seven and wounding four. He then shot himself.

The Waukesha County medical examiner's office said toxicology tests on all the victims and Ratzmann will take weeks to complete. An investigative report should be completed later this week.

Police in the Wisconsin city, are in "plodding investigative mode", compiling reports and interviewing witnesses, Assistant Police Chief Dean Collins said.

Tom Geiger, a church member and close friend of the gunman, said Ratzmann had talked about troubles with the minister. He also had a temper and "was a frustrated 44-year-old single man who couldn't get a date . . . and nothing was going right in his life".

 
 

Job, Sermon Upset Church Gunman

Investigators Say Church Killer Upset Over Sermon, Pending Job Loss

CBS News

March 12, 2005

(CBS/AP) In a minute, a quiet church service at a suburban Milwaukee hotel turned into bloodbath.

Terry Ratzmann, a buttoned-down churchgoer known for sharing his homegrown vegetables with his neighbors, walked into the room and coolly fired 22 rounds from a 9mm handgun, going up and down the rows.

One of Ratzmann's friends begged him to stop, calling him by name and saying "Stop, stop, why?", Police Capt. Phil Horter said. Chandra Frazier dove under a chair. The man sitting in it died.

"I just remember crawling on the carpet and just praying, screaming out and praying," Frazier said in a broadcast interview on Sunday.

Before it was over, seven people, including the church's minister and his teenage son, were killed and four others wounded. Ratzmann then took his own life, police said.

Although he left no suicide note and gave no explanation for the killings, investigators said Ratzmann was on the verge of losing his job and was upset over a sermon he heard two weeks ago. Neighbors said he suffered from depression and had a drinking problem.

It was unclear what specifically upset him, but Ratzmann was a member of the Living Church of God, a denomination whose leader recently prophesied that end times are near.

Fifty to 60 people were at Saturday's weekly meeting, and anyone in Ratzmann's path appeared to be a target. He even dropped a magazine and reloaded another.

The church's minister, Randy L. Gregory, 50, and his son, James Gregory, 17, of Gurnee, Ill., died, along with Harold Diekmeier, 74, of Delafield; Richard Reeves, 58, of Cudahy; Bart Oliver, 15, of Waukesha; Gloria Critari, 55, of Cudahy; and a 44-year-old man from Hartford, according to published reports.

Marjean Gregory, 52, was hospitalized in critical condition, a family friend said, and a 20-year-old woman, a 20-year-old man and the 10-year-old girl also were hospitalized.

The church group was 20 or 30 minutes into Saturday's service when the shots rang out.

Ratzmann regularly attended the gatherings at the Sheraton each Saturday ó the church group did not have a building of its own. But Frazier said Ratzmann walked out of a recent sermon "sort of in a huff."

"Something that the minister said he was upset about. I'm not quite sure what exactly," she said.

During the shooting rampage, Ratzmann told the friend who approached him that he was upset, said Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher, although he was unsure over what.

He was not known to have threatened anyone and had no criminal record, police said. They seized three computers, a .22-caliber rifle and a box of bullets from the modest two-story home Ratzmann shared with his mother and adult sister.

Neighbors said Ratzmann built his own greenhouse, kept a well-tended garden and even used humane traps to free squirrels that got in the yard.

"He wasn't a dark guy. He was average Joe," said Shane Colwell, a neighbor who knew Ratzmann for about a decade. "It's not like he ever pushed his beliefs on anyone else."

But another neighbor called Ratzmann a drinker, and church members said he struggled with depression for years.

"Terry suffered from depression, on and off. When he was really depressed he didn't talk to people. Sometimes it was worse than others," said Kathleen Wollin, 66, who was sitting at the front of the room during Saturday's service.

The district attorney said Ratzmann was on the verge of losing his job with a Waukesha County firm, but he would not name it or say what it did. Colwell said Ratzmann told him he was a computer technician.

The neighbor said Ratzmann was so devout about attending church that he skipped Colwell's wedding because it was on a Saturday.

The Living Church of God, based in Charlotte, N.C., places a strong emphasis on using world events to prove the end of the world is near.

Earlier this year, the group's leader, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith, wrote that events prophesied in the Bible are "beginning to occur with increasing frequency."

"We are not talking about decades in the future. We are talking about Bible prophecies that will intensify within the next five to 15 years of your life," he wrote in the church's magazine, Tomorrow's World.

The church branch that met in Brookfield was started by Randy Gregory, who moved his family from Texas to Gurnee, Ill., five years ago, said next-door neighbor Toni D'Amore, 47. Gregory and his 17-year-old son, James, were among the victims.

"Their children were probably, I'd have to say, were probably some of the nicest and most respectable young men I've ever met," she said.

She said James excelled in school. "He just had potential coming out of every pore of his body. You know, the world's lost something there."

Don Free said his niece, Angel Varichak, was one of the wounded, but she was expected to survive.

"I wanted to know where God was when this happened," Free told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He was supposed to be everywhere. He could have at least been there."

 
 

Police: No motive known for Wisconsin killings

Gunman killed seven before killing himself at church service in hotel

CNN.com

Monday, March 14, 2005

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- Police said on Sunday they don't know why Terry Ratzmann, 44, burst into a Wisconsin church service and opened fire, killing seven people and then himself.

Ratzmann stopped to reload his handgun during his assault Saturday on the Living Church of God service at a Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield, police said.

No suicide note or other documents have been found, and there was nothing in his background "that would jump out, as to why he would have done this," said Brookfield police Capt. Phil Horter.

Church members and relatives have told authorities that Ratzmann was facing some employment issues, Horter said, and that his employment might be "coming to an end, or was scheduled to end, in the very near future."

Also, two weeks ago, Ratzmann apparently became angry at something that was said during a sermon and walked out of the room, Horter said.

Ratzmann entered the service about 20 minutes after it began, police said, and uttered nothing before pulling out the gun and opening fire. He shot 22 rounds, stopping to reload an additional magazine into the handgun.

A woman who witnessed the shootings, however, said Ratzmann did speak, telling worshippers he had three clips of ammunition and he intended to kill all of them -- and himself.

Some church members who knew Ratzmann confronted him, telling him to stop and asking him why he was shooting, Horter said. Ratzmann apparently did not reply, but fired a few more rounds before fatally shooting himself.

He was one of five people pronounced dead at the scene. Three others died later at a hospital, Brookfield police Chief Daniel Tushaus said.

The church's minister, Randy L. Gregory, 51, and his son, James Gregory, 16, of Gurnee, Illinois, died, along with Harold Diekmeier, 74, of Delafield; Richard Reeves, 58, of Cudahy; Bart Oliver, 15, of Waukesha; Gloria Critari, 55, of Cudahy; and Gerald A. Miller, 44, of Erin, The Associated Press reported.

Marjean Gregory, 52, of Gurnee, was hospitalized in critical condition and Matthew P. Kaulbach, 21, of Pewaukee and Angel M. Varichak of Helenville were hospitalized in satisfactory condition Sunday, a hospital spokeswoman told AP. A 10-year-old girl police identified as Lindsay also remained hospitalized.

The victims were in the same general area of the room, police said.

"This is a terrible tragedy," said a statement posted on the Charlotte, North Carolina-based Living Church of God Web site. "We are cooperating with the authorities to find out what happened."

Police executed a search warrant at Ratzmann's New Berlin home, where he lived with his mother and a sister. Among the items seized were three computers, Horter said, along with what police believe were the remaining bullets and a .22-caliber rifle.

"There is no evidence to lead us to any other suspect or individual," said Tushaus. "We have no evidence of a conspiracy or any organized plan."

Shane Colwell, a neighbor of Ratzmann's, said he spoke to Ratzmann a few times a week as they both worked in their yards.

"He was a completely average guy," Colwell told CNN.

He added that he has spoken to Ratzmann's mother, who he quoted as saying she was "just in shock and feels terrible for the victims."

Brookfield is a community of 38,823 people located about 15 miles west of Milwaukee.

 

 

Police Probe 7 Murders

As police investigate a violent Saturday morning church service in suburban Milwaukee, it appears none of the congregation was worried, or had any reason to be, when they saw Terry Ratzmann, 44, walk into the service.

It had been a couple of weeks since he had last joined the Living Church of God congregation at the Sheraton Hotel conference room in Brookfield where they regularly held worship services, which he usually attended. Friends and neighbors describe Ratzmann as a buttoned-down churchgoer known for sharing homegrown vegetables with his neighbors.

But seconds after he walked into the room, he opened fire on the group, unloading 22 bullets from a 9 mm handgun within a minute. Before the shooting stopped, the pastor, the pastor's son, and five other church members were dead, four others were wounded, and Ratzmann had killed himself.

"He reloaded the gun once during the exchange of gunfire and then, as witnesses reported to us, shot himself once in the head," said Brookfield police chief Daniel Tushaus.

None of those who knew him expected Ratzmann to be violent, though some said he had grappled with depression. Neighbors said he was quiet and devout, that he liked to tinker about his house and garden. He would even release the chipmunks caught in traps he set in his yard.

Police say Ratzmann walked out of a church meeting two weeks ago, apparently upset about a sermon, reports CBS News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella. They also say he was about to lose his job.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday the Feb. 26 sermon that upset Ratzmann had made the point that people's problems are of their own making.

According to the paper, police trying to piece together a motive for the rampage are studying encrypted files from Ratzmann's three computers, seized from the home he shared with his mother and sister in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

The newspaper says police also found a .22-caliber rifle and a box of bullets that matched those used in the killings.

What they have not found is a suicide note, or anything else unusual in the house.

About 10 people attended a candlelight prayer service Sunday night outside the hotel. They gathered near a snowbank in front of a large makeshift memorial, which includes over 40 bouquets of flowers and 20 stuffed animals laid out in front of seven white crosses.

Each cross has a victim's name and age. In the back, separated from the others and leaning against a tree with some bouquets, is an eighth cross bearing Ratzmann's name.

Neighbors shocked at news of the rampage say the man they knew built his own greenhouse, kept a well-tended garden, shared vegetables grown in his garden, and used humane traps to catch and free squirrels that got in the yard.

"He wasn't a dark guy. He was average Joe," said Shane Colwell, a neighbor who knew Ratzmann for about a decade. "It's not like he ever pushed his beliefs on anyone else."

But another neighbor called Ratzmann a drinker, and church members said he struggled with depression for years.

"Terry suffered from depression, on and off. When he was really depressed he didn't talk to people. Sometimes it was worse than others," said Kathleen Wollin, 66, who was sitting at the front of the room during Saturday's service.

The Living Church of God, a denomination which places a strong emphasis on using world events to prove the end of the world is near, has no church building in Brookfield and instead meets at the Sheraton.

The group was 20 or 30 minutes into Saturday's service when the shots rang out.

Police Capt. Phil Horter says one of Ratzmann's friends begged him to stop, calling him by name and asking "Stop, stop, why?"

Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher says Ratzmann then told that friend he was upset, but it wasn't clear over what.

Church member Chandra Frazier, who survived by diving under a chair, recalls that Ratzmann walked out of a recent sermon "sort of in a huff."

"Something that the minister said he was upset about," said Frazier. "I'm not quite sure what exactly."

"He was upset over something relative to the church," Bucher told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Whether it was a sermon or some aspect of the church - something upset him and he walked out during that service two weeks ago."

As many as 60 people were at Saturday's service and anyone in Ratzmann's path appeared to be a target. He even dropped a magazine of ammunition and reloaded another.

The Living Church of God has sent an administrator to Wisconsin for counseling and to look into the weekend shooting spree that killed eight people and injured four others.

The church's minister, Randy L. Gregory, 51, and his son, James Gregory, 16, of Gurnee, Illinois, died, along with Harold Diekmeier, 74, of Delafield; Richard Reeves, 58, of Cudahy; Bart Oliver, 15, of Waukesha; Gloria Critari, 55, of Cudahy; and Gerald A. Miller, 44, of Erin, according to police and published reports.

A trauma physician says three survivors of the shooting rampage at a hotel in Wisconsin are expected to make a full recovery.

The wife of an Illinois minister killed in the bloodbath remains in critical condition and two young people are in stable condition today at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.

A fourth gunshot survivor, a ten-year-old girl, was released earlier from Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

The three hospitalized at Froedtert include, 52-year-old Marjean Gregory, 19-year-old Angel Varichak and 21-year-old Matthew Kaulbach.

Police say Ratzmann had no criminal record and no known history of having made threats against anyone.

 
 

Ratzmann talked of suicide a decade ago

He kept a gun under pillow at the time, church member says

Terry Ratzmann told fellow church members he was depressed and suicidal a decade ago, had purchased a handgun and slept with it under his pillow, a local spokesman for the Living Church of God said Wednesday.

"I submit it's a miracle this guy lasted as long as he did," the spokesman, Thomas Geiger, said in an interview. Ratzmann is the computer technician who opened fire on his congregation last weekend at a Brookfield hotel, killing seven, wounding four and taking his own life.

Geiger said he was uncertain how long that deep depression lasted but said it eventually subsided and that Ratzmann sold that gun. Asked what type of help Ratzmann got when he disclosed his suicidal feelings, Geiger said church members provided "as much support and encouragement" as possible.

"We hovered over him very closely at the time," said Geiger, whose 15-year-old nephew was among those killed Saturday. "The brethren were stabilizers for the man."

The church doesn't restrict members from getting psychiatric help but "normally tries to minister to its own," Geiger said. "If somebody is troubled, the first thing you do is go to the minister."

Although Ratzmann, 44, went through what Geiger called a "bout" of suicidal depression, he said church members generally felt that Ratzmann's tendency toward depression wasn't that serious.

"It's not like he was angry or sullen or morose all the time," Geiger said, noting that Ratzmann had a quirky sense of humor and was generous with his time and money in helping other members of the small congregation.

"We just thought Terry was troubled at times," he said.

Geiger said he didn't know whether Ratzmann sought secular counseling. A woman answering the phone at the New Berlin home where Ratzmann lived declined to comment. Ratzmann, a 1978 graduate of Brookfield Central High School, lived there with his mother and sister most of his life. He served a stint in the Coast Guard after high school.

Geiger said it now appeared that Ratzmann's battle with depression had gathered steam again recently, starting with the loss of a permanent job three years ago. Ratzmann had been working temporary contract jobs since then.

Geiger and J.D. Crockett, a national spokesman for the Living Church of God, said they did not think that a Feb. 26 incident in which Ratzmann walked out of a service early was particularly significant.

Ratzmann was to have delivered the closing prayer that day but got up and left while a prerecorded DVD sermon was still playing on a television. Some have questioned whether the message of that sermon might have angered Ratzmann.

In separate interviews, Geiger and Crockett said there was nothing particularly provocative about that sermon, which they said was delivered by national church administrator Charles Bryce. Ratzmann had walked out early from other services, Geiger said.

Brookfield police Lt. Mark Millard said investigators so far had not found evidence supporting the idea that the Feb. 26 incident motivated the killings Saturday. However, he stressed that police haven't ruled out the incident as a possible factor.

Crockett said he was unaware of Ratzmann's earlier suicidal feelings but said he had been told by church members that Ratzmann had kept a gun under his pillow until perhaps a few years ago. Ratzmann told them he had the gun for protection, Crockett said.

The gun used in the murders was a 9mm Beretta that Ratzmann bought last year.

Geiger said Ratzmann did react inappropriately to a joking comment made by Geiger's sister before Saturday's service, in which she teased him about having walked out early Feb. 26. Ratzmann's face reddened, his jaw clenched and he turned away without saying anything, Geiger said.

Police say Ratzmann left the hotel, returned 20 minutes after the 12:30 p.m. service had begun and opened fire.

Other developments

ē Ratzmann's desire to be buried at the Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove will not be fulfilled, WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported Wednesday night. A federal provision prohibits anyone who has committed a capital offense or the equivalent from being buried at the cemetery, according to WTMJ.

A private funeral service will be held for Ratzmann, according to Alstadt-Tyborski McLeod Funeral Service. No other details were released.

ē Jonathan Gregory - the surviving son of the Living Church of God pastor killed Saturday - posted an Internet letter to church members thanking them for support. Randy Gregory, the pastor, was killed along with another son, 16-year-old James Gregory. The family lives in Gurnee, Ill.

Gregory writes that his mother, Marjean Gregory, who was wounded during the shootings, was "making a miraculous recovery." An operating room nurse initially reported that she had died, Gregory wrote. A bullet pierced a lung and her lower abdomen, and she remains on a ventilator, according to her son.

ē A woman featured in some photos taken at Devils Lake State Park on a Web site of Ratzmann's e-mailed local news media to say she was a former co-worker of Ratzmann's and had "a non-dating casual friendship" with him.

"It has been quite heart-wrenching to hear of a friend being reduced to such hopelessness," the woman, who didn't identify herself by name, wrote.

Church members have said Ratzmann, who was 44, was frustrated deeply by his inability to find a wife.

ē The location for a funeral service for Bart Oliver has changed and now will be held at Country Springs Hotel in Waukesha at 7 p.m. Friday.

 
 

Ratzmannís friend recalls troubled man, horrible day

WAUKESHA - Terry Ratzmann tried to kill Thomas Geigerís son. Yet, after 20 years of friendship, Geiger still wants to attend the killerís funeral.

Geiger, 56, of Sullivan, talked at length Wednesday about Ratzmann, 44, whose actions Saturday ended eight lives and forever changed many others. Besides discussing his relationship with Ratzmann, Geiger talked about how Living Church of God members can never go back to the Sheraton Hotel, 375 S. Moorland Road, even though the church had met there for the past several years.

"Iím haunted by just driving past there," Geiger said.

The church will have a Saturday service but a location has not been picked. The next few days hold many funerals to attend, tears to shed and grieving family members to console, particularly Ratzmannís mother and sister.

"They must be incredibly devastated by this," Geiger said.

With a few days passed now, how is it going with dealing with the grief?

Well, I can only speak from a personal level and, of course, Iíve observed my immediate family deal with this. What has happened with us is we will go through the motions of daily necessities. One of the things that our family has done is weíve, basically, circled the wagons and my sister and her husband are staying with my brother and his wife. My parents, who are aged - my dad is 88, almost 89, and my mother is 83. They happen to be here for the winter and staying with my brother. We have daily get-togethers and talk.

In terms of the grief, it seems to come in waves. We can go along and function and discuss funeral plans and discuss various news articles and so forth and discuss the brethren and other people that are involved. What I wanted to explain is thereís no way to make the pain go away. Itís just a matter of dealing with it and recognizing that we canít change it and thereís going to be a hole in our lives for the rest of our lives. You really canít put it to rest and we probably never will completely put it to rest.

Ultimately, the pain will dull and will minimize, but weíre always going to miss Bart (Oliver), and weíre going to miss all the other ones, all the other people that we knew and loved that we lost, including Terry. Terry was a near and dear friend. He was a casualty of a terrible spiritual war, as were the others. Terry was used. He was used.

What do you mean by used?

The individual that walked into the back of that church service and gunned down his brothers and sisters and children that he knew and saw grow up was not Terry Ratzmann. That individual was evil personified. He was consumed.

Weíre religiously oriented people. When we look at things we look at them from a religious perspective. I understand that the general newspapers donít write from that perspective. When we talk about things that are geared in that direction, it may not make sense or it may not appeal to the writer or, necessarily, the reader. But, thatís the way we see this.

This was a spiritual war that was going on. It goes on in all of us. It went on in Terry, in particular. He had some nasty skeletons in his closet that haunted him, probably, his whole adult life.

Thereís been speculation that depression bothered him. Did you see that?

Yes, I did.

Did he ever ask you for help?

Terry wasnít the kind that was open in that way. When Terry had a problem, he internalized it, which was dangerous. When Terry had a problem with someone or something, he would normally just leave, sometimes in a huff.

Was that why there was speculation about a sermon bothering him?

Thatís what it was, speculation. He left the service and there were a number of factors involved there. Iíve got notes from the sermon, and the sermon was innocuous.

I donít know how anyone could have been offended. Now, Terry was a different sort. I suppose itís remotely possible.

What I think it was, and Iíve stated this before to the media, Terry was assigned the closing prayer on that particular Sabbath. Mature men in the congregation are asked to give an opening and closing prayer. He was assigned the closing prayer on that service.

At the tail end of the service, the sermon finishes, then thereís a final song and thereís a man up front that leads songs. Then he calls upon whoever was asked before the service started to give the closing prayer.

Right at the end of the tail end of the service, and Iím not sure when; he might have even left during the song part of it it. Terry took off. I donít even know if he took off. He just left. He used the restroom and was absent when he should have been in there to give the prayer.

That almost never happens unless someone gets sick or thereís some other extenuating circumstances. For someone to willfully leave ... Thatís a significant assignment. Itís like the capstone of the service. Itís not extensive, usually a minute or a minute and a half. But, a lot of times it will recap the sermon and ask for a blessing on the people and help us to return home safely and so forth. Itís meant as just the cherry on top of the sundae, so to speak. Itís the final touch to the peopleís heart.

Well, Terry was obviously deeply troubled. I believe it was an accumulation of things that led him to the depth of his depression. I think it was his job loss and the volatility of his working career of late. I think it was the loneliness of being a single man. I think there were frustrations there. I think he had trouble in his childhood and he was living with his mother and felt, probably, inadequate at times.

Was there a support system in the church to help him work through that?

Itís not structured that way. Itís not like a large, 300-, 400-, 500-person church, where you have organized support networks for people.

Weíre on a far more personal, one-on-one basis. Weíre on a first-name basis with everyone there. Keep in mind, this is like a 70- to 80-member church. We know one another almost like we know our own family.

The support network is almost automatic. The brethren in the Living Church of God are generous and warm and friendly and supportive. We have photographs of Terry from the time our kids were toddlers, with Terry holding them on his lap. We spent lots of family time with Terry and tried to include him in family activities and functions. Terry was a part of our lives.

Was there a support network for him? Yes, there was. It wasnít one that had a title or a coordinator or anything of that sort. It was the way we lived. ...

About 10 or 11 years ago, Terry had a severe bout of depression, and I had forgotten about it. At that time, he had a gun and he slept with a gun under his pillow. I didnít know this. If I knew it, I forgot it. I maybe did. He went through a bout of this years ago. For whatever reason, it slipped my mind.

He eventually recovered from that, and I think he sold the gun. Well, now it comes out that he just bought this gun last June. Terry was an accomplished shooter. That, I think is on the record, and I probably stated that before. He was a marksman. You donít lay down the lead and do the kind of damage he did unless you know what youíre doing. He was murderously accurate.

Because he has had a history of these problems, the depression and all the rest of it, we believe he was being stalked. What Iím saying is, and Iím going to veer into Scripture again on you, the Scripture says that Satan walks around like a raging lion. If you think about, in your mindís eye, picture these nature shows, and you watch how a lion operates. They will look at a herd of game. It could be gazelles. It could be sheep. The Bible uses sheep as an analogy for the church and even for Christ himself.

What that lion does is he looks at those animals. He looks for the old. He looks for the very young. He looks for the weak or the sick. Terry was a straggler. Terry, inside, was crippled by his troubles. Many times we would reach back and, figuratively, help Terry along. Sometimes he straggled back and some of us maybe were caught up in our own problems or whatever and just didnít see it, didnít realize it and didnít know how far back he was straggling. I mean, this is all figurative.

Terry had reached where I donít think he had reached before, and he was straggling so far behind the flock that Satan was able to come and not only slaughter him, Satan was able to take him over. What we had was we had a man that we knew and trusted who came back in among us, but it was no longer Terry. The individual who came in among us was Satan personified.

Now, that may sound crazy to you.

No, it does not. I might have had a different religious upbringing than those involved but Iím not about to disregard anyoneís beliefs.

We werenít inside the building. Our youngest son was the only one of the immediate family in there. I can give you firsthand accounts of what he looked like. My 12-year-old son has told me, and told reporters numerous times. Robert (Geiger, his son) was one row in front of the Gregorys. They were sitting on the right-hand side of the room, right on the aisle - Mr. Gregory, James (Gregory) and then Mrs. Gregory. Right in front of them was Jerry Miller, who was killed. Then there was an empty seat and then Bart Oliver was next to him and then there was an empty seat and Robert was along the wall.

All of those people in those two rows were killed with the exception of my son. He dodged a bullet, literally. Thank God.

I want to get back to Terryís appearance. You canít always tell when someone has a demon. Sometimes they look just perfectly normal, but when Terry came into the room Robert looked back because he was expecting us to come into the room. I donít know that anybody else - there may have been others that looked back but I havenít heard of it. Terry came in the room rather quietly, apparently, but Robert looked back and thought, ĎOh, thatís Terry.í

Then, he did a double-take, and he saw the gun. He was carrying the gun at his side. And, he looked at his (Terryís) face, and he said it didnít look like Terry. His face was enraged and his eyes were real dark. He got to the back of the room and he opened up.

I donít know if anybody has really got the image of how rapidly Terry fired.

I donít think anyone can really comprehend it.

He mowed down probably five or six people by the time Robert reacted. Robert watched his cousin crumple out of his chair in front of him, and Robert moved toward Bart. He got a look into Bartís eyes, and Robert knew it was serious. Then he looked back at Terry and made eye contact with Terry, and Terry was training his gun on him at that point. He had slowed down the firing because Robert was moving. Everybody else was sitting ducks, so to speak.

He was aiming at Robert next, and Robert saw the gun and Robert, basically, just dropped backwards as Terry fired and the round cleared Robertís face by inches. And, actually, it went into Angel Varichak, which is one of the girls recovering in the hospital.

Iím mixing things here but I want to continue with the concept of what happened to Terry. He emptied a 13-round clip in a matter of seconds and dropped the clip and slapped in the next one. As he did that, David and his father, Richard, who had taken cover on the other side of the room where Robert was, they both hollered at him simultaneously. Iím not going to have the quote exactly right, but ĎWhy are you doing this? Stop. Stop.í Words to that effect.

It seemed to disorient Terry to some extent, and I think he lost some of his focus. Whatever it was that was controlling him may have lost a little of its grip. It was like it rattled his head a little.

Then, when he fired the remaining rounds, they were far more at random. He didnít have the targets lined up, and I think it was a ricochet from one of those rounds that hit the little, 10-year-old girl, Lindsay.

He had started to realize what was happening, perhaps?

Possibly. Iím going on the eyewitnesses that Iíve talked to. My brother-in-law and my sister had been at the very front of the room. As soon as those shots were fired my sister, wisely, got out of the room. Then, after the shooting stopped, she realized, ĎWait, Iíve got family back in there.í Sheís brutalizing herself for leaving her son behind. I mean, when somebody shoots, the first thing you think of is flight.

 
 

Wisconsin church gunman a devout loner who lived with his mother

BROOKFIELD, Wis. - Terry Ratzmann left the world just like he left so many church services and group gatherings - alone, and without uttering a word.

"Terry walked out of lots of things," said Tom Geiger, 56, a fellow congregant who knew Ratzmann for 20 years. "You wouldn't know he was gone till you saw his tail lights."

Last weekend, Ratzmann's final departure came in a blaze of shots from his 9 mm handgun, killing seven and injuring four during a Living Church of God service in a hotel. Then he shot himself in the head.

That was not the quiet man who delivered mulch to friends and joked around during picnics, said Ralph Edwards, 69. Edwards watched in terror as Ratzmann shot from right to left, first the pastor's wife, then their 16-year-old son, then the pastor, before shooting others.

"It was just mechanical and his face was just, it was like he was in a trance," Edwards said. "His eyes were black."

Those who knew Ratzmann, a 44-year-old computer technician, now struggle for answers.

Why did the quiet gardener, who gave others homemade soap but could not get a steady date, turn into a killer?

While a definitive motive may never be known, friends and family described him as lonely and depressed.

Ratzmann lived with his mother, Shirley, who said that although he did not seem suicidal, he was depressed about his job situation and was not pleased with his church, according to a medical examiner's report. "She stated that her son did not agree with the new pastor's point of view, but didn't harp on it," the report read.

Friends said Ratzmann had been greatly affected by his parents' divorce after he graduated from high school in 1978, but avoided the subject. His father, John, died in 1992.

Ratzmann joined the U.S. Coast Guard in June 1978. By the time he was honorably discharged in June 1982, he had developed the two interests that ultimately proved an explosive mix - religion and guns.

Police say Ratzmann bought a .22-caliber rifle on July 3, 1982, and Geiger said Ratzmann became an excellent marksman. He bought the 9 mm Beretta he used in the killings last June.

In the early 1980s, Janet and Terry Brantzeg began seeing Ratzmann at gatherings of the Worldwide Church of God. He became engrossed in church outings - ball games, potlucks and social events. For Ratzmann, "that was his life," Janet Brantzeg said.

Marriage was restricted to church members, said Brantzeg, 64, so she tried setting him up with her daughters. "But my daughters ran the other way, because he was a little bit ... different," she said.

Then, their church fell apart. The Worldwide Church's founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, died in 1986, and his successor ended practices such as required donation of up to 30 percent of income, Old Testament dietary laws banning pork or shellfish, and a ban on work during the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Prophecies of an apocalypse were out, and dealings with other Christians were in.

Ratzmann joined a splinter group, formed by Roderick Meredith, which stuck fast to the original teachings.

The new, smaller group numbers 7,000 spread over 40 countries, down from about 150,000 at the Worldwide Church's peak.

The breakaway group could have created a pressure-cooker environment, said Nancy Ammerman, professor of the sociology of religion at Boston University.

"The strictness can heighten the possibility for disruptive behavior," Ammerman said.

The group had a "very pessimistic, apocalyptic view of the world," said Curtis Freeman, research professor of theology at Duke University's Divinity School.

"When you put all of them together, you're really creating, I think, a kind of very volatile chemistry," Freeman said.

Meanwhile, pressures on Ratzmann grew.

He was laid off as an engineering technician from a high-tech device maker in March 2002, and his latest contract as a computer technician was due to end March 25.

"He said he was just sick of losing his job all the time," said Edwards, adding Ratzmann began showing up less frequently at church outings.

"He was a frustrated, 44-year-old single man that couldn't get a date, that was losing his job again and nothing was going right in his life," Geiger said.

The last sermon Ratzmann heard, on Feb. 26, was about choosing between the Biblical Tree of Knowledge, of good and evil, or the Tree of Life, which grants immortality, Geiger said. Ratzmann bolted - which was common - but when he returned, he looked menacing.

Geiger's sister kidded him about skipping his turn at giving the closing prayer. "He looked away, his face got red, and he clenched his jaw," Geiger said.

After Ratzmann came into the service March 19 with his Beretta blazing, police found his briefcase at his home, with his Bible inside.

"He made a fatal choice," Geiger said. "He traded a Bible for a gun."

 

 

 
 
 
 
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