NEW BERLIN, Wis. — When chipmunks got into Terry Ratzmann’s garden, he set up traps to catch them. But his neighbor said he kept the animals alive and let them loose somewhere else.
“He couldn’t even kill a chipmunk. He was that kind of individual,” said Gene Herrmann, who lived next door to Ratzmann for about 30 years.
The man police say killed seven people and then himself during a church service Saturday was described by neighbors as quiet and devout.
He liked to tinker about his house and garden, said Shane Colwell, another neighbor who knew Ratzmann for about a decade.
'He wasn't a dark guy'
Ratzmann lived with his mother and sister in a modest, two-story brown home about two miles from the suburban Milwaukee hotel where police say he opened fire during a service of the Living Church of God. Ratzmann went to church every Saturday, Colwell said.
“He wasn’t a dark guy. He was average Joe,” Colwell said. “It’s not like he ever pushed his beliefs on anyone else.”
But a church member who was at the service when the shooting took place said Ratzmann seemed depressed to her. Chandra Frazier told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Ratzmann became upset about a sermon two weeks ago and left in the middle of the service.
His church, Living Church of God, is a born-again denomination that focuses on “end-time” prophecies.
Shared vegetables with neighbors
Investigators say Ratzmann also may have been on the verge of losing his job. He was a contract employee for a Waukesha County firm, but District Attorney Paul Bucher would not name the company or say what Ratzmann did.
Ratzmann built his own greenhouse, and neighbors said he shared his homegrown vegetables with them. Colwell said Ratzmann raised trout and designed a system in which he used trout waste to fertilize his greenhouse plants — including tropical plants and Venus flytraps — then recycled the water back to the fish tank.
A week ago, Colwell helped Ratzmann fix his truck. Herrmann said he took good care of his house and three dogs.
“He never bothered anybody around here,” he said.