BUFFALO, MINN. – Residents of this Wright County town Wednesday were coming to grips with a bitter truth that countless other American towns have faced: It can happen here.
The day after a mass shooting left one dead and four wounded at an Allina Health clinic, people were wrestling with the event, trying to make sense of the senseless.
"It's a small town. I can't believe it happened," said Joann Innamorato, packing up sandwich orders behind the counter at BJ's Deli. "If it was California or New York, you could see it."
Others echoed her thoughts.
"In a town like this, you think nobody would do a thing like this," said Rose Ann Burke, manager of the Love in the Name of Christ Thrift Store. "This is a town where people care about people."
Prosecutors on Wednesday said they are ready to "aggressively prosecute" 67-year-old Gregory Ulrich and plan to file murder and other felony charges against him on Thursday. Police said Ulrich, a Buffalo resident who had a history of threatening health care workers, opened fire at the clinic just before 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Killed in the attack was 37-year-old Lindsay Overbay, a medical assistant and mother of two young children.
Three other victims remain hospitalized, one in critical condition.
Buffalo, with about 16,500 residents, sits among dozens of lakes about 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities; about a quarter of the acreage inside city limits is water. The downtown, with charming small retail shops and restaurants, sits on the shore of Buffalo Lake. Ulrich lived in a mobile home park on Lake Pulaski, another large lake about a mile from downtown.
Many residents wondered why Ulrich, who remains jailed and could make his first court appearance Thursday, wasn't somehow reined in after dozens of threats and interactions with police and the court system in recent years.
"There were definitely signs," said Zach Novak, a neighbor of Ulrich's in the Pulaski Park mobile home court. "I'm really upset, and I know everybody is."
Rita Bloom, a retired nurse who works at BJ's, said society too often overlooks mental health problems.
"Do we have these time bombs walking around?" she asked, adding, "It's unbelievable that somebody in the health care field was shot. Those are the people that help us."
The Rev. Ted Vanderpan, pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, said people of faith often will struggle to balance their anger toward the perpetrators of crimes with a duty to forgive. Vanderpan said his church will offer prayers for Ulrich along with prayers for the shooting victims.
"There's a brokenness there that we do care about," he said. "We do want to be part of the healing."
As news of the attack spread on Tuesday, panicked residents texted and phoned frantically, checking on friends and loved ones.
They also got calls and texts from their own loved ones living elsewhere, who saw news reports of the incident.
Amanda Schmidt, an elementary school teacher, said her school went into "soft lockdown" in the aftermath of the shooting, meaning the outside doors were locked and staff was informed of the incident, but the children weren't told of any danger.
Heather Thornton, an administrator at Buffalo Evangelical Free Church, knew things were bad when she saw more than 20 emergency vehicles scream past the church with lights flashing and sirens wailing.
Thornton said she doesn't share the illusion that towns like hers are protected from the troubles of the world. Buffalo doesn't exist in a bubble, she said.
"I don't ever think we're immune from it," Thornton said. "Our world is a broken place and we're all sinners."
Coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the troubles it's brought, Tuesday's tragedy is even harder to take, she added.
"Right now it is a very tense time," she said. "There are angry people, unemployed people, sick people. And if people are hurting and they're not getting the answers they want, they lash out."
Like other people of faith in Buffalo, Thornton will pray for Ulrich, she said.
"But do I have ill feelings? I do," she added. "He took a big chunk out of our little town."
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this story.