BROOKFIELD, Wis. -- A Wisconsin man who had been accused of domestic violence and slashing his wife’s tires took a gun into the spa where she worked Sunday and shot seven women, three fatally, before killing himself, a police chief said.
The shootings set off a confusing, six-hour search for the gunman that locked down a nearby mall, a country club adjacent to the spa and the hospital where the survivors were taken. The search froze activity in a commercial area in Brookfield, a middle-to-upper class community west of Milwaukee, for much of the day. Ultimately, he was found dead in the spa.
Authorities said it would take time to sort out exactly what happened, and emphasized they were still interviewing witnesses and rescuers and did not have a firm timeline of events. At a news conference Sunday night, Mayor Steve Ponto called the shootings "a senseless act on the part of one person."
The chaos started around 11 a.m. at the Azana Day Spa, a two-story, 9,000-square-foot building across from a major shopping mall. The first officers on the scene found the building filled with smoke from a fire authorities believe was set by the suspect, Radcliffe Franklin Haughton, 45, of Brown Deer, Brookfield Police Chief Dan Tushaus said.
They also found a 1-pound propane tank they initially thought might be an improvised explosive device, Tushhaus said. That slowed the search of the building as law enforcement agents waited for a bomb squad to clear the scene.
Tushaus said later that police didn’t know whether the gunman brought the propane tank to the spa or it was left by a contractor.
The search also was complicated by the layout of the building, with numerous small treatment rooms and several locked areas, Tushaus said. While officers initially thought the gunman had fled the building, they later found his body in one of the locked areas, he said.
The bodies of the victims were also found in the spa. Tushaus said investigators were still working to identify them. He said the four survivors were between the ages of 22 and 40. He didn’t know if they were employees at the spa or customers, and it wasn’t clear if the man’s wife was among the victims.
Haughton had recently been arrested after witnesses identified him as the person who slashed his wife’s tires, police said.
He appeared in court Thursday. A four-year restraining order was issued, and Haughton was ordered to turn any firearms over to the sheriff’s department.
Haughton’s father, Radcliffe Haughton, Sr., spoke to a television station and The Associated Press shortly before police announced that they had found his son’s body. In telephone interviews from Florida, he said he had last spoken to his son a few days ago, but didn’t have any indication anything was wrong. He begged his son to turn himself in.
After learning of his son’s death, he said only: "This is very sad."
A sea of ambulances and police vehicles collected at the scene shortly after the shooting. A witness, David Gosh of nearby West Allis, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was returning from duck hunting with his father and a friend when he saw a woman emerge from the spa, screaming, as she ran into traffic.
"She ran right out into the street was pounding on cars," Gosh told the newspaper. Moments later, a man with a handgun ran out. He appeared to be chasing the woman but then went back inside, Gosh said.
At the hospital where the victims were taken, staff members were escorted inside during the temporary lockdown and critically injured patients were accepted with a police escort. Officers were stationed at entrances.
The hospital released a statement saying two women had undergone surgery, and one was in critical condition. Another was expected to have surgery Sunday night.
The shooting investigation and manhunt paralyzed a normally bustling shopping district. Inside the mall across the street from the spa, people waited patiently for updates. Gina Kralik, a bartender at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, said people had been allowed to leave at one point but then police had decided not to let anyone come or go from the mall.
"We’re just sitting watching the news and also trying to find out what’s going on," she said about 3 p.m.
Austin Della, 17, was working at a department store in the mall when he heard announcements over the loudspeaker asking people to move their cars out of one parking lot. The mall was then locked down for almost three hours, he said, and customers joked about the good service they would get as the only clients in the store.
"Everyone was really calm," Della said. "If not for all the announcements, I don’t think anyone would have known that anything was happening."
It was the second mass shooting in Wisconsin this year. Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran and white supremacist, killed six people and injured three others before fatally shooting himself Aug. 5 at a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee.
The shooting at the mall took place less than a mile from where seven people were killed and four wounded on March 12, 2005, when a gunman opened fire at a Living Church of God service held at a hotel.