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Survivor testifies about fatal shootings in Wisconsin woods
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Terry Willers said no one shot at Chai Soua Vang or physically assaulted him before Vang started firing at the group Nov. 21 in some isolated northwestern Wisconsin woods. (Pool photo via Associated Press)
One of the hunters who survived a shooting in Wisconsin's woods last fall has testified in the murder trial of Chai Vang. Vang, 36, is a St. Paul man charged with shooting six deer hunters to death, and wounding two others. The shooting happened after Vang was found in a deer stand on private property.

Hayward, Wis. — Terry Willers took the stand Monday, to give his version of events that left six dead and two wounded last fall. He was one those wounded, who survived.

Willers is the man who first confronted Chai Vang, who was in a deer stand on Willers' wooded property. In his testimony, Willers spoke slowly and quietly. He held his composure, except for a moment, when he spoke of his daughter Jess, one of the hunters who'd been killed that day.

Willers said he was alone when he confronted Chai Vang. But Willers had radioed to his hunting party in a nearby cabin.

"I asked what hunting party he was with, and he kind of mumbled something that I didn't understand," said Willers.

Willers told Vang he was trespassing and directed him away. But other members of Willers' hunting party were on the way, and soon confronted Vang a few hundred yards down a trail. Willers could hear their voices, and recognized Bob Crotteau, who owned the property with Willers.

"I know Bob had raised his voice at one point where I heard him say that tree stands didn't particularly grow out of the side of trees," Willers testified.

Willers said he didn't hear any threats against Vang, although he couldn't understand all of what was being said. He said he didn't see anyone physically assault Vang.

I felt a burning and felt a ripple through my body. I next thought about moving and I couldn't move. I was thinking this was it.
- Terry Willers, shooting survivor

There were six hunters, including Terry Willers, then confronting Vang. Bob Crotteau was asking for Vang's identification, using, Willers says, a "stern" voice. Vang didn't respond, and at some point Bob Crotteau told the others to let Vang go.

But as he passed, Crotteau and another hunter reached to Vang's ID tag, which hangs on the back of Wisconsin deer hunters. They read aloud his number, and Terry Willers wrote the number in the dust of an ATV.

The hunters told Vang they would report him for trespassing.

Willers said Vang walked a few yards, dropped a backpack, turned, and pointed his gun at Willers. Other than Vang, Willers was the only other man there with a gun.

"And he started to come around with his gun, and I held my gun out in front of me, and believing that he was going to shoot at me, I said, 'Don't you shoot at me, you son of a bitch.'"

Willers said he dropped to the ground and heard Vang fire at him. The first shot missed. The second didn't.

"And in a split second I felt the burn, and felt the ripple through my body," Willer said. "I next thought about moving and I couldn't move. I was thinking this was it."

Willers was shot in the neck, temporarily paralyzed. But he heard more gunshots. Within several minutes, eight hunters were shot; six with fatal wounds.

Defense attorney Steven Kohn questioned Willers, to understand whether Chai Vang had been threatened. He wanted to know whether Willers was aware of Chai Vang's ethnicity.

"I could guess probably, approximately. ... I believed him to be Hmong," Willers said.

Terry Willers' son Brandon also testified. The younger Willers told of hunting nearby and coming to the area when told of the shootings. Brandon said he talked to hunter Lauren Hesebeck, who'd also been shot.

"(I) asked what happened, and Loren said, 'He opened up on us.' And I said, 'On purpose?' And he said, 'Yeah,'" Brandon Willers said.

Brandon Willers drove his father to the hospital. They only talked a little about what happened.

"He just kept saying it was stupid, what happened. It was stupid," Willers said.

A handful of people from Twin Cities Hmong community were in the courtroom to show support for Vang. Vang family members and friends joined them. Half the courtroom was filled with the friends and families of the shooting victims.

Terry Willers was the first eyewitness to the shooting to testify. He was the first witness cross-examined by Defense attorney Steven Kohn. Still, Kohn was not able to break new ground that would explain how he intends to show that Chai Vang was frightened for his life.

"It is setting the table for the evidence yet to come, and that is what we were doing today," Kohn said.

Tuesday, prosecutors intend to put more witnesses on the stand who were on the property the day of the shooting. That might include Loren Hesebeck, another eyewitness who survived a gunshot wound.

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