Police Release Tapes of Frantic 911 Calls in Church Shooting

Times Staff Writer

The calls came swiftly, six of them in all.

“My friend, she’s lying on the floor! I think she’s dead!” one woman, identified as Carol, told a 911 dispatcher. “Oh, this is awful! This is a massacre!”

Police on Monday released recordings of the frantic calls placed as Saturday’s shooting rampage at a Living Church of God service unfolded in this Milwaukee suburb. Terry Ratzmann, identified by police as the gunman, killed seven members of the congregation before putting a gun to his head.

A caller named Jeff was the first to get through -- at 12:51 p.m. -- 21 minutes after the service began. He had run out of the room when the shooting started, all the way across a huge parking lot and into a mall. Now he was standing inside Sears, breathing heavily into the phone. Jeff told the dispatcher that he and the others thought they heard the sound of balloons popping.


“But someone said: ‘This is real! This is real!’ ” he said.

A dispatcher asked another caller where the shooter was. The caller had no way of knowing that Ratzmann, 44, had already killed himself.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “I’m under a chair. I can’t see. Please hurry. People are screaming. They are hurt.”

One caller identified Ratzmann as the shooter, and another volunteered that he had been depressed lately. Another woman pointed out that a potluck dinner scheduled for after the service was on hold.

As a dispatcher attempted to glean information -- how many were injured, where the shooter’s body was -- one woman was apologetic: “I’ve never had to do this before,” she said.

“That’s quite all right,” the dispatcher replied.

Law enforcement officials said Monday that they did not understand Ratzmann’s motive.

Acquaintances and fellow church members have said that he was in danger of losing his job, which he got through a temporary staffing service.

Ratzmann worked as an engineering technician at a healthcare services company. His contract with Adecco USA, the staffing company, and GE Healthcare was expected to end March 25, said Brookfield Police Chief Daniel Tushaus.


But, the chief said, that date marked the “natural expiration” of the job. The staffing service had told Ratzmann that it would attempt to find him a project to work on elsewhere.

“There was nothing sinister,” said Waukesha County Dist. Atty. Paul Bucher. “The project was coming to an end.”

Ratzmann appears to have become angry in recent weeks at his church. Investigators said they still aren’t sure why.

Congregation members said Ratzmann had grown agitated by recent messages passed down from the church founder, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith of Charlotte, N.C., suggesting that the United States was facing an imminent financial collapse.

Meredith has warned repeatedly over the years of doomsday scenarios and of a pending apocalypse.

On Feb. 26, Ratzmann walked out in the middle of a sermon, although he had been scheduled to give the closing prayer that day, Police Capt. Phil Horter said.


Investigators were trying Monday to determine what the sermon was about.

They also were not sure whether it was delivered live or if church members watched a video of Meredith or another church leader.

Horter said police and the FBI were going through thousands of files on four computers used by Ratzmann -- three that were taken from his home in New Berlin, Wis., and one that he used at his office.

About 70 files on the computers were encrypted, but investigators have been able to access them, Horter said.