Tribune reporter Colleen Mastony began reporting this story two days after the shooting. She spent weeks in the Rice Lake area and in St. Paul, where Chai Vang lived. She interviewed Vang, his family and friends, as well as the two survivors, Terry Willers and Lauren Hesebeck, and the family and friends of the six people who were killed.
Vang spoke to Mastony over the telephone from his jail cell three times, and sent her two letters, one that gave his life story and another that described the day of the shooting. Quotes from the letters appear with minimal editing.
The profile of Vang and the history of his family were based on interviews with Vang and his relatives, including his mother, Chao Hang; his sisters, La and Mai Vang; his brother, Sang; three of his children: Kia, Lee and Pang; his friend Thai Thao; his three wives: Say Xiong, Zia Yang and Deu Lee Khang, as well as other friends and family.
Several people, including Hang and Thao, spoke through a Hmong translator hired by the Tribune. Mastony also spoke to people in the Hmong community, including Joe Bee Xiong at the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, and historians such as Jane Hamilton-Merritt.
Descriptions of Vang's arrival home on Nov. 20, 2004, come from Khang, who was there that morning. Passages involving Vang's hunting party came from interviews with Chai and Lee Vang, and Thai and Kai Thao.
Passages about the Willers family came from an interview with Terry Willers and his wife, Patti. Descriptions of Jessica Willers were drawn from interviews with her family, friends and co-workers. The immediate family of Bob Crotteau, including his wife and children, declined requests for interviews. Some of the information about him came from an interview with his stepmother, Judy, and several friends. Descriptions of the cabin came from people who had been there, including Judy Crotteau and Hesebeck.
Descriptions of the Frontier Saloon the night before the shooting come from Donny Drew and Nate Hover, who were there.
Mastony joined the Tribune staff in 2002. Before that, she had worked as a crime reporter in Florida and a business reporter in New York City.