MIDDLETON, Wis. - Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of Dane County's first active shooter incident. Four people were injured when an employee at WTS Paradigm began shooting inside the software company’s Middleton office on Deming Way.
In the 12 months since the shooting, the officers and deputies who responded that day have received national recognition for killing the gunman and preventing an even greater tragedy. Like the Paradigm employees, many of them are still dealing with the emotional impact.
On the morning of the incident, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney was at a breakfast with a number of law enforcement executives at a large corporation in Dane County talking about preparedness for active shooters.
"When we left that breakfast, the tones went off," Mahoney said. "I turned to my fellow administrators and asked if there was a practical exercise going on somewhere that I was not aware of. It was only a minute before we realized that in fact, this was Dane County’s first active shooter incident."
Middleton Police Chief Charles Foulke, Capt. Troy Hellenbrand and Sgts. Tyler Loether and Darrin Zimmerman were the first officers to arrive at the scene.
"My first reaction was, 'Is this real?'" Loether said. "In the back of my mind, I was hoping it was fireworks or some sort of erroneous report. Nonetheless, we took it seriously and treated it seriously. The three of us paired up and did what we trained to do numerous times before." Hellenbrand said. "There was no hesitation by any one of us. We knew what we had to do. Within seconds, we were entering that building."
Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies were called to 1850 Deming Way at 10:25 a.m. on Sept. 19, 2018, for reports of victims with gunshot wounds.
"When we went in there, it was eerily quiet," Zimmerman said. "We didn’t see anybody hiding. We were just moving through the building trying to find the shooter. We came into a big open atrium area. That was the point Sgt. Loether and I were side by side and Sgt. Hellenbrand was behind us. Right when we came into that big area, the shooter came out from another room about 11 feet from us. He fit the description, he had a gun and the threat was there. We gave him multiple commands to drop the gun for almost 60 seconds."
The shooter, 43-year old Anthony Tong, was shot by officers, killing him. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said it's unclear which officer killed Tong. Bullet strikes found directly behind some of the officers positions is evidence that Tong shot at officers when confronted. A months-long investigation showed the officers "had no other option" than to shoot Tong.
Tong shot and injured four co-workers. One of the victims was shot multiple times. A deputy gave another victim a tourniquet, which was then put on by a fellow employee.
"We know who the real heroes were that day, and it was the people of Paradigm," Foulke said. "They all survived, and they survived because they did what it took. They hid under a desk, or barricaded themselves or they ran. They even carried their wounded with them."
The motive for the shooting remains unclear.
"There was no precipitating factor," Foulke said. "There were no workplace beefs going on. The people that were shot were shot at random and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get in someone’s mind and figure out why this happened."
Though he was barred from legally buying or owning a gun, the workplace gunman bypassed background check laws by legally purchasing parts online. Tong had a documented history of paranoid schizophrenia. Mahoney and Foulke both said stricter gun laws are needed to prevent those who can’t legally own a gun from exploiting loopholes in the law.
"This is not a second amendment issue," Mahoney said. "It's a community safety issue. We need as a community and as a nation to ask our lawmakers to help us as law enforcement officers to do our job in protecting the community. It’s about protecting people who have a mental health issue that makes them a danger to themselves or the community. We as a nation need to say, enough is enough."
As the community moves forward, Foulke and Mahoney want people to know that law enforcement is there to provide the training and the resources to be prepared.
"We're very proud of our response but we’re not breaking our arms patting ourselves on the back," Foulke said. "There were a lot of lessons learned that day. We've been going around the state putting on training sessions on what we did right and what we did wrong. We've got a lot of groups that are coming together county wide that are looking at this incident and seeing how we could have done things better. We're better than we were a year ago. Our country's better and our state is. We hope to God we don't ever have to respond to something like this again, but if we do, we're prepared."
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