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Wis. charges say gunman had 'nothing to lose'

Accused of rape and murder, Wisconsin officials say Scott J. Johnson hid in the woods knowing police were coming after him.
Wisconsin Shooting
Police provided this picture of Scott J. Johnson on Friday. Johnson, 38, of Iron Mountain, Mich., was arrested for the shooting deaths of three teenagers after opening fire with an assault rifle on a group of young swimmers.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Scott J. Johnson hid in the woods knowing police were coming after him.

He had nothing to lose, plotting to kill as many officers as he could after luring them to a nearby river by ambushing a group of teenagers, according to a criminal complaint.

Johnson gunned down three teens as they relaxed near a bridge spanning the Menominee River between Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula that is a popular swimming site, prosecutors said Wednesday.

"His plan was to shoot anyone who showed up to help," Marinette County District Attorney Brent DeBord said.

But Johnson apparently reconsidered after shooting the teens, the complaint said. Following an all-night manhunt, he surrendered to authorities, disabling his military-type rifle in a way that would be obvious to them, DeBord said.

Johnson, 38, of Kingsford, Mich., was charged Wednesday with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Johnson's public defender, Len Kachinsky, said he plans to hold his first meeting with Johnson before a court hearing Thursday.

"I think people should maintain an open mind and withhold judgment until the evidence is in," Kachinsky said.

Disaffected man
The complaint tells a chilling story of a disaffected man who had thought about committing a random shooting for the past four or five years and prepared by stashing weapons in the woods.

"He stated that the sole purpose of his hiding this equipment was for when a day like this came," DeBord said.

Johnson finally decided to execute his plan last week after suspecting that a woman he had recently sexually assaulted would tell her ordeal to police, the complaint said.

He has not been charged with sexual assault, but more charges could still be filed, DeBord said at a news conference Wednesday at which he read the complaint but declined to take questions.

The complaint gives the following account:

Johnson said he lured the woman near the bridge the evening before the shooting, sexually assaulted her and tried to talk her out of calling police. He decided to wait there and kill any law enforcers who arrived to investigate. When none did, he returned home.

He left his home the next day and when he returned, his mother told him police were looking for him. Expecting to go to jail and fearing the label of sex offender, he decided "he had nothing to lose and the only power he had in this life was `to take.'"

He returned to the bridge, where he counted eight teenagers. He recovered his hidden Armalite 7.62 mm military-type rifle and an ammunition box with .308 cartridges that he had stowed at least a year before.

He found a hill on the Wisconsin side where he could shoot. He planned to wait until the youths were back on the Michigan side and shoot them as "bait" to lure law enforcers he could then also shoot.

But he was startled when four of the teens began to climb up toward him, instead of taking the path he expected. When the teens approached, he felt trapped and jumped up, firing about 17 shots. He saw people fall as he began to reload but decided not to fire again.

Turned himself in
Johnson spent the night in the woods and turned himself in the next morning as an intensive manhunt was under way.

"Before exiting the woods, he disabled the firearm in a way so that law enforcement could see that the gun was disabled," DeBord said.

Two teens, Tiffany Pohlson, 17, and Anthony Spigarelli, 18, died instantly from single shots to the head. The third, Bryan Mort, 19, died of a shot to the torso. A 20-year-old man suffered superficial shrapnel wounds. All four were from Michigan.

The location of the wounds suggested all four were fleeing, said Scott Celello, undersheriff for Dickinson County, Mich.

Johnson's mother, Judy Johnson, had said her son was honorably discharged from the Army in 1994 without serving overseas and has been unemployed. She described him as despondent since his wife left him in 2001 and took their two children with her. She said she worried he might "do something stupid."

DeBord is handling the case because the shots were fired from the Wisconsin side. Michigan authorities are still investigating and could file additional charges, he said.

Christopher Ninomiya, the Dickinson County district attorney, did not immediately return a message left Wednesday seeking comment.