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Law enforcement officials in Appleton, Wisconsin released new details (below) Thursday of the investigation into the May 15, 2019 shooting that left Appleton Firefighter Mitch Lundgaard dead. Police body worn camera video was also released (above).
Statement from Chief Thomas regarding the Valley Transit incident that occurred May 15, 2019.
This tragedy has forever changed the lives of many people, most importantly those of the Lundgaard family. We know there is nothing any of us can do to take away the pain this has caused, but as a community we can continue to support them and stay committed to responding to this the way that Mitch would want us to.
We thank the Green Bay Police Department for their quick response and timely investigation. We know that this was a very difficult case for them to investigate, their staff was extremely compassionate and professional. We also thank the special agents of the WI Department of Criminal Investigations who immediately responded to the scene. I also want to thank the WI State Patrol for the help they provided that night and for reconstructing a very complex scene. An investigation like this is never done alone; it takes several local and state agencies working together to ensure a complete and thorough investigation.
It is impossible to name all the agencies that assisted us at the scene and in the days that followed; but I do want to specifically thank Outagamie County Sheriff Kriewaldt and Chief Greg Peterson of the Grand Chute Police Department for the amazing assistance their agencies provided at the time of the incident and for providing police services to the city during the procession and funeral. The Appleton police and fire departments, our employees and their families, are eternally grateful for all the help provided to us during our toughest days.
As a community, we need to thank District Attorney Tempelis and her staff for making their review of this incident a priority. We know how important it is to provide accurate information to the public as quickly as possible, but it can never be at the expense of the integrity of the investigation.
And we are very thankful for our dispatchers, who are our lifelines during incidents like this and who never get the credit they deserve. Thank you for your dedication and sacrifices!
I have read the reports and reviewed body camera videos. The body cameras have again proven to be extremely valuable and well worth the investment we make in them. Our body camera program protects our officers from false accusations, helps us gather critical evidence, and strengths the trust the community has in us.
And for this incident, it shows the public just how a seemingly insignificant, non-emergency call for a police officer, can quickly turn deadly. This is why our officers have to always remain vigilant, and why there is no such thing as a routine call.
I’m extremely proud of the professionalism that all the first responders displayed. Sgt. Biese and Officer Christensen were extremely patient and compassionate to a person who they were genuinely concerned for: and in a split second, that same person turned on them. They courageously responded in the way they have been trained, to stop a deadly threat. These officers, and the other officers that responded, than provided emergency medical aid to the same person, who just seconds before, was trying to kill them.
Sgt. Biese and Officer Christensen acted heroically, moving and repeatedly engaging the suspect as he fired. Even after Officer Christensen was hit, and clearly in extreme pain, he battled on because people’s lives were still in danger. They were both guardians and caregivers – and when needed they were true warriors – vividly demonstrating the strength of the thin blue line.
Officers also provided emergency medical aid to Ms. Schowalter, which included driving the rescue squad to the hospital so that the EMTs on that squad could provide her the critical care she needed to survive. We ask the community to keep her in your thoughts and prayers as she also continues to recover from this tragedy.
The body camera videos we will release will allow you to see and feel how this incident developed, and it puts you in the shoes of the officers involved. They are very intense and difficult videos to watch. But there is also a video that shows the exact moment that officers working the scene learned that Mitch had died. It is heart-wrenching and painful to watch; but the officer’s actions after that also demonstrates what is meant when you hear those words, The Thin Blue Line, or The Thin Red Line. On the video you see the immediate shock they feel, how everyone takes a breath and pauses for a couple seconds, and then how they jump right back into getting things done and working the investigation. That is what your officers and firefighters do every day. I could not be prouder of how both our departments responded to this.
As we continue to heal from this, what have we learned about our community?
Obviously this was an anomaly for our community, or for any community, and this could have happened anywhere on the bus route from Milwaukee to Wausau. This was a criminal traveling through our community, who had a long history of illegal and dangerous behavior. His actions were pure evil, plain and simple.
But, it is the actions of those first responders, and how this community supported us, which reaffirms everything we already know about Appleton; and that is what will truly be the final word in this tragedy.
The Fire Chief and I previously mentioned some of the things that we witnessed that displayed valor to us; but there were many more. On the videos you will see heroic, compassionate, and selfless acts from all the first responders; which is only part of this story. It is how this community responded; with love, understanding, empathy, and even tears, that is as important as anything else.
In Appleton, we know who we are as a community and why we are always hopeful –
It is because of those children that dropped off cards and collected money for the family.
It is the young girls’ softball team, who went out and asked for donations so that they could have a cookout with the firefighters and police officers.
It is the countless messages of support and prayers that came from all parts of our diverse community.
It is all the hugs we received from community members, and our fellow brothers and sisters in public service, who encouraged us to keep fighting on.
It is that amazing turnout for Mitch’s procession and funeral, and the beautiful signs and support shown by the 10’s of thousands of people who lined the route.
In the end, it is the actions of all those people, our heroic first responders and our compassionate community members, which truly defines the city of Appleton.
Todd L. Thomas
Chief of Police