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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Shooter Faces Three Murder Counts; Held On $3 Million Bail

Issue Date: August 13, 2008

Prelim Set

For Aug. 20


Preliminary Examination for multiple murder suspect Scott F. Johnson, 38, of 521 Hemlock Street, Kingsford, Mich. has been set for 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20 before Judge Tim Duket in Marinette County Circuit Court, Branch II. Johnson faces three counts of First Degree Intentional Homicide in the deaths of three Michigan teenagers who were shot Thursday evening, July 31 at a popular swimming spot near a railroad bridge over the Menominee River about three miles west of Niagara.

The victims were Bryan Mort, 19, of Iron Mountain, Mich., who died on the Michigan side of the river; Tiffany Ann Polson, 17, of Vulcan, Mich., and Anthony David Spigarelli, 18, of Iron Mountain, whose bodies were found on the Wisconsin side. A fourth victim, Daniel Louis Gordon, 20, of Kingsford, is reportedly recovering after being hospitalized for treatment of shrapnel wounds to his back.

Johnson was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 1 following a 16-hour manhunt involving over 100 law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies on the Wisconsin and Michigan sides of the river.

Charges were filed Wednesday, Aug. 6 by Marinette County District Attorney Brent DeBord. DeBord said at a press conference later in the day that the case was clearly in Wisconsin jurisdiction since Johnson did all the shooting from the Wisconsin side of the river.

However, federal prosecution remains a possibility, since the shooting crossed state lines and involved a railroad easement. Wisconsin has no death penalty, so maximum sentence on a Wisconsin conviction would be life in prison on each count. Possible federal charges could involve a death penalty. DeBord reported federal authorities are researching the possibility of federal charges at the request of himself and Dickinson County Prosecutor Christopher Ninomiya.

Meanwhile, Johnson is being held in Marinette County Jail on $3 million cash bond set by Judge Duket at an initial appearance held by video conference Thursday, Aug. 7. DeBord stressed in his news releases that suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Johnson was represented at the initial appearance by Attorney Len Kachinsky of Appleton. However, according to a news report, Kachinsky was decertified for failing to provide competent representation while representing a Wisconsin teen in connection with the sexual assault and murder of Teresa Halbach on Oct. 31, 2006, which could mean he would not be allowed to represent clients facing the most serious crimes, including homicide.

Kachinsky had asked for $1 million bond, while DeBord sought $5 million. Duket, in setting the $3 million bond, noted the charges against Johnson are the most serious possible in Wisconsin, and he felt the possibility of life in prison without the possibility of parole, would be a powerful incentive to not be available for trial.

At DeBord’s request, Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg ls assisting with the prosecution.

At the Aug. 6 news conference, DeBord released the statement of probable cause prepared by Marinette County Sheriff’s Department Detective Tony O’Neill describing events leading up to Johnson’s arrest and subsequent statements made to investigators by Johnson.

DeBord also asked that news media refrain from contacting families of the victims or an alleged sexual assault victim indirectly connected to the case.

O’Neil’s report states that at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 31, Marinette County Dispatch Center received a number of emergency calls reporting shots had been fired on the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River near the East Kingsford railway bridge in the Town of Niagara. At least one caller indicated an unknown number of persons had been shot by someone wearing camouflage who had been hiding in the woods on the Wisconsin side of the river across from a popular local swimming area next to the bridge.

Law enforcement officers from multiple jurisdictions, including Marinette County Sheriff’s Department, Dickinson County Sheriff’s Department, Kingsford Public Safety, and City of Niagara Police Department responded. They found two persons dead on the Wisconsin side of the river. Officers were posted near the bodies and remained with them throughout the night.

The shooter could not be located. A perimeter was established to contain the area and prevent the shooter from escaping. A portion of the Town of Niagara north of County Highway N was evacuated. The area remained secure throughout the night of July 31 and into the morning of Aug. 1 as the search continued. Officers stood guard over bodies of the victims.

At about 9 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 1, Johnson, dressed in camouflage and carrying a firearm exited the woods near the railroad crossing on County N near Niagara. The man, later identified as Johnson, complied with directions from authorities and was taken into custody. He admitted to authorities that he was the lone shooter at the railway bridge.

Emergency personnel and law enforcement officers entered the area near the bridge from the Michigan side of the river by crossing the bridge and recovered the bodies of Tiffany Pohlson and Anthony Spigarelli from the Wisconsin side of the river. The body of Bryan Mort had previously been recovered from the Michigan side of the river.

A preliminary coroner’s report written by Dr. Mark Witek indicates that both Pohlson and Spigarelli died from single gunshot wounds to the head. A report prepared by a Michigan medical examiner concluded that Bryan Mort died of a single gunshot wound to the torso.

After being taken into custody, Johnson was transported to the Marinette County Sheriff’s office, where he was interviewed by investigators O’Neil and Todd Baldwin.

Johnson said he had been born and raised in Kingsford, Mich., and had been living with his mother there since December, 2001. He had spent four and a half years on active military duty and another four years in the National Guard.

(Other reports state Johnson graduated from Kingsford High School in 1989 and joined the Army a few days later. He was stationed at Fort Polk, La., and was never sent overseas. He was married in 1990. After he was honorably discharged in 1994 he worked as a plumber in Shreveport, La. until he moved back to his mother’s home after his wife left him in 2001.)

He told officers he felt like he had a lot of stress in his life, but this did not justify his actions. He said at one point he had been going to college, held two jobs, and attended Officer Candidate School, but no matter how much he worked back then, it never seemed like it was enough. He said he felt like every time he was about to obtain something it was taken away.

His mother, Judy Johnson, had earlier told authorities her son’s personality had changed after his marriage dissolved seven years ago and his ex-wife moved to Ohio with their two children. She said he had been a devoted father.

According to O’Neil’s report, Johnson told the investigators he had been having thoughts about doing something like this for four or five years. He had kept bags with different gear, including weapons and ammo, hidden in various locations for four years, with the sole purpose, for when a day like this came.

Events leading to the shootings started on July 30, when Johnson went for a bike ride with a 24-year-old female acquaintance. He said they rode to the area near the bridge on the Wisconsin side of the border, and there he attempted to sexually assault her. He told officers she fought back and he was unable to complete the assault. He said he talked to her afterwards and hoped she would not call the police.

He then returned to the area near his mother’s home and remained hidden, watching to see if any law enforcement would come. About 11 p.m. he saw a squad car drive slowly past the house.

He then returned to the woods on the Wisconsin side of the river where he had his equipment hidden and waited for officers to come to investigate the sexual assault. His plan was to kill any law enforcement that arrived. No one came.

At about 10 a.m. Thursday Johnson returned home and asked his mother if the police had come looking for him. She said they had not. He ate, then explained to his mother that the police might be looking for him, and that he would duck out and come back. When he returned about 3 p.m. his mother told him the police had been there and had left a card asking him to call.

Johnson said he then went to a Subway restaurant to eat because he expected to go to jail. At this point he was evaluating his options. He said he did not want to be listed as a sex offender. According to the report, Johnson told officers he felt he had nothing to lose and the only power he had in this life was to take.

Still weighing his decision, Johnson decided to go back into Wisconsin and get geared up.

At about 4 p.m. he returned to Wisconsin, again by crossing the East Kingsford Railway Bridge. At the bridge he counted eight teenagers swimming in the river nearby.

Johnson said he had kept a duffle bag with some equipment hidden near a blown tree for a year or two. The gun was kept hidden nearby in a rock face, wrapped in plastic. He had an ammo box with .308 cartridges hidden separately. He said he looked around to determine the best area from which to shoot and decided the best place was from the top of a hill on the Wisconsin side where he could lay down and turkey shoot.

According to the report, Johnson said at this point he was sweating and still debating whether he could go through with this.

He told investigators he had expected the teenagers to climb up from the river at a different place and cross back over to Michigan. He had planned that once they were all back in Michigan he would shoot them so they could act as bait to lure in law enforcement and first responders. His plan was to shoot anyone who showed up to help.

Four of the teenagers deviated from what he expected by climbing up from the river near his position. He said he was startled by them and felt trapped. He jumped up and started firing. He saw a couple of people fall. He began to reload. He said he emptied a couple of clips, and estimated he fired around 17 shots. He said he shot at number of people, all from the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River.

He considered reloading and firing again, but decided to stop and evaluate his options. He spent the night in the woods near the bridge.

After spending the night in the woods, Johnson decided to turn himself in. Before exiting the woods, he disabled the firearm, in a way so that law enforcement could see that the gun was disabled. He exited the woods near the railroad crossing on County N in the Town of Niagara and complied with directions from authorities and was taken into custody.

Since the shootings, Iron Mountain area residents have rallied to show support for families of the victims. A concert honoring the victims on Sunday, Aug. 10 attracted nearly 8,000 people and had raised nearly $74,000 by Monday morning. The money will be divided between the families of the three victims.

To open the benefit, members of VFW Post 3674 and Auxiliary came riding in on Harley Davidson motorcycles. They released pink balloons in honor of Pohlson and blue ones for Mort and Spigarelli.

Bad Axe Rodeo, band of benefit organizer Daryle Ryan, opened the concert with Amazing Grace. Prayers for victims, officers and the community were offered by Rev. David Snyder, pastor of United Methodist Church, which Mort’s family attends.




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