Lake City shooter was Iraq war vet facing discharge

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 20, 2011 - 11:06 PM

Lake City officer shot Monday remained in critical condition.

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About 300 people gathered for a candlelight vigil for officer Shawn Schneider outside St. Marys Hospital on Tuesday.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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The man accused of critically wounding a Lake City police officer, resulting in a dramatic daylong lockdown Monday, was a despondent Iraq war veteran who was being discharged from the Wisconsin National Guard.

Alan J. Sylte Jr. wrote cryptic messages on his Facebook page Sunday, according to his uncle Michael Sylte. In one message, Alan Sylte said he was a "wreck" and in another he wrote: "if I mean anything to anyone, thanks and I love you."

Tuesday evening, about 300 residents and officers from communities from Minneapolis to Rochester to Lake City gathered at a candlelight prayer vigil outside the Rochester hospital where officer Shawn Schneider, 32, was fighting for his life. The husband and father of three remained in critical condition at St. Marys Hospital.

Officers were called about an argument between Sylte and a woman about 8:30 a.m. The woman escaped unharmed before Sylte fired at officer Schneider. Authorities announced about 6:30 p.m. that Sylte, of Hager City, Wis., had been found dead inside the house. Authorities said Tuesday that a preliminary autopsy shows he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.

Michael Sylte said he hadn't seen his nephew in years, but had been in contact with him through the social networking site. He said he was trying to figure out what might have gone through his nephew's head. "Our prayers definitely go out to the family of the police officer," Michael Sylte said.

'Possible suicidal male'

Alan Sylte, 25, was in the process of being discharged from the Wisconsin National Guard for failing to report for required duty once a month, a Guard spokeswoman said.

Sylte joined the Guard in February 2009 and served on active duty from March to August of 2010, coming home early due to the drawdown of troops, spokeswoman Jackie Guthrie said.

A private, Sylte served in Iraq for three months last summer with an engineer company based in Spooner and Superior, Wis. -- a unit that provided security and cleared roadside bombs. In Iraq, Sylte was assigned to escort a battalion commander around, said Paul Cusick, now a company commander who deployed with Sylte at the time.

"Everything you do over there was inherently dangerous but at the time and place we were, it was very calm," Cusick said. "He was a smart kid. ... He seemed like a very competent individual."

It wasn't the first time police had been called to handle a domestic disturbance involving Sylte, though. In Wisconsin in November 2006, St. Croix County sheriff's deputies were called to a rental property in Somerset for a "possible suicidal male and shot gun involved."

He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct, but the charges were later dismissed.

Denae Saltness, who was living with Sylte, told deputies that they had argued and Sylte had pushed her down, punched her in the stomach and later kicked her as the two fought, the report said. She said Sylte went to a bedroom for a shotgun.

Saltness said Tuesday night that she worried about his safety more than hers that night. Though they fought and their relationship ended about five years ago, she said, Sylte was a "good kid." He played football in high school, worked toward a GED while they were dating, and had a lot of friends, she said. "I want to know what happened to push him to that point. It just doesn't make sense to me," she said through tears. "I don't see him ever trying to hurt somebody else."

Alan Sylte's suicide came almost exactly six years after his father died on Dec. 22, 2005, of lung failure, Michael Sylte said.

A community prays

St. Marys offered few details about Schneider's conditions late Tuesday. Relatives had said Monday he was shot on the right side of his head and the bullet was lodged on the left side of his brain. He had been able to give his wife and parents thumbs-ups and squeeze their hands.

Schneider's uncle, Mark Schneider, wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday, linking to a story on the shooting, that "From a basement window, this man ambushed my nephew as he walked to the front door in the line of duty. He has killed himself. Please pray for our family and his."

A Facebook page set up Tuesday had hundreds of comments. One post said, "We want you to be our Christmas Miracle officer Shawn."

Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report. Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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