LAKE CITY, MINN. - Hundreds of students filed out of schools in this southeastern Minnesota town Monday evening, reunited with relieved parents after a daylong lockdown prompted by the shooting of a police officer by a man later found dead, apparently by his own hand.
The critically wounded officer, Shawn Schneider, 32, a nine-year veteran of the Lake City Police Department and the father of three children, was airlifted to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester after being shot once in the head while responding to a domestic dispute at 8:30 a.m.
Mayo Clinic spokesman Joe Dangor said Tuesday Shawn Schneider remains in critical condition at the medical center's St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.
The town's two public school campuses and one private school, all close to the scene of the shooting, were immediately placed on lockdown after the shooting and residents were urged to remain in their homes as police scrambled to determine what had happened and whether the shooter had escaped the house at 618 Lyon Av.
The students weren't released until about 6:30 p.m., just after authorities announced that the man, Alan J. Sylte Jr., 25, of Hager City, Wis., had been found dead in the house's upstairs bedroom.
"We're glad it's over, but so worried for the family of officer Schneider," Tracy Brunkow said after fetching her 9-year-old daughter, Emma, from Bluff View Elementary School at about 7 p.m. She said Schneider's daughter is in Emma's class.
The news of Sylte's death ended a day of confusion and dread in this picturesque river town.
The ordeal began shortly after 8:30 a.m. with a 911 call about an argument between the suspect, who had a handgun, and a woman. The woman escaped unharmed, possibly with Schneider's help, before Sylte fired at him outside the house, said Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch.
Relatives said that Schneider was shot on the right side of his head, and the bullet is lodged on the left side of his brain. They said he was in a medically induced coma and being awakened every hour, and that he had been able to give his wife and parents thumbs-ups and to squeeze their hands.
Bartsch said that officers entered the house just before 3:30 p.m. and did a methodical search, finding Sylte's body more than two hours later. Asked why the lockdown, standoff and search extended into the evening, he said, "We do things a little differently than we did 20 years ago. ... I'm OK with the time it took."
Lake City Police Chief Gary Majchrzak said Schneider is the consummate professional. "He knew how to handle himself," he said. "He knew how to handle a scene."
A town held its breath
All day, the town of about 5,000, which skirts Lake Pepin, a widening of the Mississippi River, buzzed with rumors and concern as parents waited by phones and computers for word on when they could retrieve their children. Tracy and Eric Brunkow, who operate two restaurants in town, Bronk's Bar & Grill and The Galley, were among them.
"Knowing Emma, she's probably having a ball," Eric Brunkow said of his daughter during the lockdown. "But yeah, we're all on alert. This is a small town; you don't expect this kind of thing to happen."
Brunkow said he and Tracy and other parents he'd spoken with were glad the school district "took these steps to keep our kids safe."
"A lot of the kids would walk home right near that place, and we wouldn't want them doing that if there's a possibility of danger," he said.
The district's new parental notification system was used multiple times Monday to update parents via e-mail and phone messages, including to give the all-clear.
'Just so in shock'
Brunkow said workers at Bronk's said that during the breakfast hour, a firefighter eating with friends got a call that caused him to jump up, yell, "Officer down!" and run out the door.
During the standoff, Carrie Friedl paced her front porch, watching police a block away. She heard about the shooting when her 17-year-old daughter, home sick, got a text from a friend at Lincoln High saying the building was locked down.
Her younger daughter, fourth-grader Lily, was among those stuck in school. "I'm just so in shock, because it's your own back yard," Friedl said.
Friedl said she wasn't worried about any physical harm to students, but rather about the emotional toll, especially on the younger kids. "I know tomorrow they're going to have questions," she said.
Nick Eckhart, 23, a Lake City resident who confessed to getting into some trouble as a high school student, said Schneider is a good police officer. "He wrote me a few tickets here and there," Eckhart said, saying Schneider went out of his way to counsel him during those encounters. "He tried to give me some life lessons and stuff."
As Eckhart watched the standoff, he echoed the sentiment of many others. "Most of the crime here is generally neighborhood kids partying or a bar fight," he said. "Stuff like this doesn't happen."
"I think sometimes the general public thinks that something like this can't happen here," Bartsch said. "But it did."
It's been decades since Lake City underwent its grimmest ordeal with crime. In December 1975, Mayor Wilmer (Tony) Strickland, 58, and his wife, Verona, 53, were shot to death in their home, killings that remained a mystery until 1995, when their former neighbor, John Claypool, then 34, confessed that he had killed them while high on drugs and alcohol, simply to target someone in authority.