By Brandi Makuski
Stevens Point police say thanks in large part to social media, a March 17 shooting has become the subject of vast speculation and misinformation.
SPPD Assistant Chief Tony Babl said there’s only so much the department can confirm publicly because the investigation is still underway, but there’s no shortage of guessing by readers in the comment section of numerous media outlets.
On Monday, local police were able to confirm a second victim in Thursday’s shooting over a suspected drug deal on the 2700 block of Fifth Ave., a neighborhood comprised mostly of student rental units.
A 20-year-old male, who has not been identified by police, was struck by a bullet around the same time as his friend, 21-year-old Deonta Lezine, during what police believe was a drug deal gone bad. The incident occurred on the street on St. Patrick’s Day, Babl said. Police have declined to comment on the nature of Lezine’s wounds, citing concern for the family’s privacy.
Police said neither man is currently enrolled at UWSP.
Babl called the 20-year-old man’s wounds “superficial” and said the man left the area for Racine — likely because he was scared — where he sought medical treatment. He then returned to Stevens Point Sunday night to check on the status of Lezine.
“At that time, he contacted us and made a statement,” Babl said on Monday. “He is cooperating with the investigation.”
Lezine remains in critical condition at an undisclosed trauma center. Babl would not say if either man was a participant in the suspected drug deal, or if they were bystanders. He also declined to say what type of drugs police suspect were involved.
A “wanted” alert and photograph of the shooting suspect, 30-year-old Kyle C. Engen, were posted on the Marshfield Police Dept. Facebook page earlier than investigators would have liked, Babl said, as it was part of an alert designed solely for law enforcement awareness before notifying the public. Initially, Babl said investigators did not intend to release the suspect’s photo because it could taint witness identification later.
“The general public was not in danger,” Babl said, “but we didn’t want an officer pulling [Engen] over for a traffic violation and then getting into a shootout.”
The alert was published on the Marshfield PD page a full three hours before local police released the information on March 19. The alert, which on Monday afternoon still characterized the Mar. 17 incident as a “homicide”, was posted by MPD Chief Rick Gramza, who was unavailable for comment.
As of 4:30 PM on Monday, Babl said Lezine was still listed in critical condition and the case is being worked as an attempted homicide. It was not immediately clear why the MPD Facebook page continues to read “homicide”.
After consulting with Gramza, Lt. Pat Zeps from MPD said, “At this point, [Gramza] is not willing to comment on it, as it’s a Stevens Point investigation.”
Babl said Dane County law enforcement has been “extremely helpful” with the investigation, to include officers assisting on Saturday with execution of a search warrant at a Marshall, Wis. residence where Engen was believed to be, but officers were unable to locate him.
Babl also noted there was “a lot of inaccurate information” being posted to various news outlets and social media websites.
News of the shooting has been picked up by the media statewide. In a Journal Times article on the shooting, a reporter falsely cited SPPD’s Det. Joe Gruber as saying Lezine was being treated at Ministry St. Michael’s “after being shot several times in the head”.
Police Chief Marty Skibba said Gruber never spoke “with any media outlets on this [story].”
Babl reiterated additional information would be available to the public once it did not endanger witnesses, law enforcement or the investigation as a whole.
Police in multiple jurisdictions are still looking for Engen, Babl said, who added police “have not made any arrests at this time.”
Babl said police continue to work around the clock “following up on every lead”.
Engen, 30, is described as a white male, six feet tall and 155 pounds with brown eyes and blonde hair. He has a tattoo of “420” on his right arm and was last seen driving a maroon or purple Lexus SUV. Engen is also believed to be in the possession of a .380 handgun.
The Stevens Point Police Department is seeking any information related to this incident. Please contact Sgt. Gruber at (715) 346-1518 with any information.