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A town's symbol of tragedy is demolished

A Wisconsin home where six were gunned down is razed to make way for a memorial.

June 22, 2008|From the Associated Press

CRANDON, WIS. — The home where six young people died when a jealous off-duty sheriff's deputy went on a shooting rampage eight months ago has been likened to an infection in this small northern Wisconsin city.

The cure came early Saturday, when workers demolished the house.

"The house has got to go," said Bill Farr, pastor of Praise Chapel Community Church and chairman of the committee that bought the property near downtown to convert it to a memorial. "It has no symbol of peace. It is only a symbol of tragedy."

About 100 people watched from the streets Saturday just after sunrise as crews flattened the house with a backhoe and logging crane. The morning silence in this close-knit town of 2,000 people, where logging and recreation are key industries, was broken only by the roar of the equipment and splintering of the wood.

"It's hard for me to put into words. Relief will set in eventually," said Ed Smith, father of victim Aaron Smith, as he watched the wreckage being loaded onto a truck. "We're going to take a vacation and go camping for five days. We really and truly need a break."

Hours earlier, a few hundred people gathered at a Friday-night vigil outside the white two-story home. Many wore maroon T-shirts that said "Crandon Angels, rest in our hearts" and had the victims' names printed on the back.

Lee Smith, Aaron's mother, said she had anxiously waited for the house to be removed. The location is near the post office, so she couldn't always avoid it.

"I don't come by here unless I have to," she said.

"We will always remember what happened here, but once the house is gone we can move forward a little bit. We are never going to forget."

Workers who are volunteering their time and equipment began ripping down the house around 5 a.m. Its remains are to be buried in an undisclosed landfill in another state to make sure no one ever obtains a piece.

"I have related it like an infection," Farr said, "and until you clean out that infection, you can't heal. I see that in the families."

A committee headed by Farr formed shortly after the shootings and raised $71,000 to buy the property from the father of one of the victims.

The plan had always been to demolish the home, initially by burning it down. It just took longer to do than originally hoped, Farr said.

The memorial is to be a six-sided gazebo, each wall dedicated to one of the victims, with a water fountain in the middle, said Sue Hill, treasurer of the Fountain of Youth Memorial Fund. The hope is to finish construction by the anniversary of the shootings.

"The families have worked very, very hard to get to this point," Hill said.

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