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Monday, June 05, 2023

A man nearly died from asthma attack after shooting at local homeless shelter

A man nearly died after suffering an asthma episode following a shooting at a temporary housing shelter Monday night. He was almost not able to get life-saving treatment from community medics.

When the Madison Police Department responded to a call of shots fired around 8 p.m. in a temporary shelter located on First St. and Johnson St., they moved everyone in the shelter out to an area in the parking lot with a chain link fence on one side and closed entry to the other sides of the lot.

MPD spokesperson Tyler Grigg says police kept people in that area for an extended amount of time to “preserve and protect the area” in order for the Division of Criminal Investigation to conduct an examination of the crime scene.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported the scene was quiet by 8:30 p.m., though the men who were in the shelter were still standing outside in the police perimeter.

At 10:30 p.m., a little more than three hours after the shooting, UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition co-founder Tarah Stangler arrived at the First Street building to what she said looked like a “humanitarian crisis.”

“People were caged in this area outside without blankets for hours,” Stangler said. “We wanted to know what [MPD’s] plan was for all these men, because this is already an overflow shelter, there isn’t anywhere else for them to go.”

Stangler said that when community responders first arrived, they weren’t allowed to talk to the men standing in the parking lot, but that officers eventually let them communicate through a chain barrier on one side of their perimeter.

“Every time I asked a question to police, they told me they would have to find someone else to answer my question and it took forever,” she said. “Eventually they did let us give them stuff through the fence, which was honestly disgusting we had to do that in the first place, but people were asking for blankets and food because all they had been provided with was three buses to sit on.”

Griggs said MPD worked with the shelter's staff to assist those who had been displaced, including with blankets and shelter, and that people were allowed to leave and come back to the site as needed. 

Incident at the fence

Around midnight, Stangler said a man approached the barrier and told community responders he was having difficulty breathing, and that he has asthma but didn’t have his inhaler because it was sitting inside the building which DCI investigators still had closed off.

Responders gave the man an inhaler and albuterol through the fence, but his conditions continued to get worse. Stangler said she repeatedly went up to officers to ask for permission for responders to take the man out of the chained area for medical treatment, but that her requests were initially denied.

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“Officers told me it was a very complicated situation and they couldn’t release him, which just frustrated me,” she said. “So I went back to the fence to help, and the man's condition pretty quickly deteriorated.”

Eventually the man stopped breathing, at which point police allowed community responders to take the man out of the caged area and perform life saving procedures. The man eventually was able to be resuscitated, and EMT paramedics arrived shortly after to take over and provide additional care.

Griggs says that MPD officers were alerted to a person suffering from a medical event during the course of their investigation, and that the Madison Fire Department was called to assist as “officers rendered aid.”

However, Stangler says police gave no indication that paramedics were called until after the man had collapsed and life saving procedures had begun.

“Officers didn’t recognize what was going on until I went up to them to tell them he had collapsed, even though it was clear something was wrong,” she said. “At that point, police told me they had called paramedics and not to worry, but we wanted to be able to take him out of that area immediately because we also had trained professionals with the equipment to help him right there.”

After the incident, community responders were allowed inside the closed off area to give further assistance to anyone who had been displaced by the shooting. Stangler said they gave out pizzas donated by Ian’s and worked to find hotels or other shelters for people who would have instead slept outside or on buses near the shelter provided by MPD.

Housing efforts

Stangler and the UW BIPOC Coalition ultimately raised over $700 to support those affected in the 24 hours following the shooting. The money was spent on basic necessities and temporary housing like hotels that were provided to those who were displaced. 

She says the coalition wants to make this fund for community support a long-term fundraising effort, rather than waiting for booms of donations after incidents like this one.

To help rehouse homeless folks, the Greater Madison Resource Center set up a PayPal account to accept donations, while the BIPOC Coalition has been collecting donations for personal care items through it’s venmo: @UWMADISONBIPOC-Coalition.

“Students should recognize that we don’t live in this bubble in downtown Madison, we should be a part of the entire community,” Stangler said. “There are ways we can support this community — by donation or through volunteering and action — that will make an impact on the city.”

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