Fear, frustration felt over 'implied threat'

Shawano Leader, Wisconsin/November 14, 2008

A week after being gathered together by the FBI to be told they were the potential victims of an unspecified crime, many of those who were notified are still working through a range of emotions.

"Disbelief," was the first thing city of Shawano alderman Woody Davis said he felt. "I was completely surprised by it."

One thing that seems to be common among all of the potential victims who were willing to talk to the press is a sense of frustration.

"I really didn't think the (FBI) information was very useful at the time," Davis added.

Others who did not want to be quoted shared the sentiment, saying they wished federal authorities could have been more specific.

The FBI told those they believe may be targeted in some way - upwards of 60 people in Shawano and the surrounding area - they could be the victims of "an implied threat." They asked them to be vigilant and report any suspicious behavior.

"There are people in the community that are talking about it," Davis said. "We can't say too much to them about what's going on because we really don't know."

Police Chief Ed Whealon said authorities share the sense of frustration, but are unable to provide further details.

"We're equally frustrated," he said. "The FBI is frustrated. But there's a protocol to an ongoing investigation and that's the way it is. We're trying to work with people, trying to take care of people in the community as best we can."

Whealon has in recent days had to balance the sense of heightened vigilance with efforts to tamp down undue concern.

He said there have been inquiries about whether area school districts and students are safe and he assured school districts they have not been targeted.

"None of the schools are involved, none of the school districts are involved," he said.

One thing Whealon is concerned about is the chance someone in the community might react in some way against those they may believe are responsible for the threat.

"If somebody does that, they will be criminally prosecuted and it will be harsh," Whealon said.

Few of those who were warned last week by the FBI say they have changed their routines.

"I haven't changed anything," Davis said. "I haven't seen a need yet at this point to take any special precautions. We go about our lives as we normally do."

But he said he isn't ignoring the warning.

"I guess we should believe the FBI when they tell us to be vigilant," he said. "I guess I do notice things a little bit more as far as looking at automobiles and look around more."

Davis said he hopes the FBI will eventually be more forthcoming about what exactly is going on. In the meantime, he credited city police and the county sheriff's department with doing all they can do to safeguard people.

The city has beefed up security in the wake of the FBI warning and more security is coming, Davis said, even though some in the community think the alleged threat has been exaggerated.

"Some people think it's all a big fabrication, that we're making too much to-do about it," he said. "I'm not one of those people. I think we're doing the right things and hopefully we'll get some resolution from it."

Charlene Helms, coordinator of Shawano's Downtown Business Improvement District, is another who doesn't think the threat is overblown.

"The FBI would not be bringing us together if there wasn't something they thought we should be aware of," she said.

"That said," she added, "I'm not going to change my lifestyle except for being more vigilant as the FBI has asked us."

Since news of the FBI investigation was reported, Helms said she has gotten numerous calls from business owners and other people expressing their concerns.

"I want people to know they don't have to feel that they are not safe in Shawano," she said. "I don't want people to stay away, obviously."

But she also advised them to heed what the FBI suggested.

"Know what their surroundings are and be careful," she said.

Helms said she is hearing concern, but not panic in the community. She said a more immediate issue is the media that was camped outside City Hall on Thursday.

"What all of us are trying to avoid at City Hall as I look out the window and see all these trucks with the TV cameras and equipment - we're not afraid of anything except we don't want that camera stuck in our face all the time," she said.

"I feel more angry than threatened," said a City Hall employee who did not want to be named.

He said he was angry about the negative publicity being focused on Shawano and about the security precautions the city has been forced to take.

"I'm angry (this has) upset 60-some people from their personal lives," he said.

Another city employee said the situation has caused some in the community who have had contact with her to wonder if they were being put in harm's way.

She said it could also upset upcoming holiday plans with her family.

She said her emotion is neither fear nor anger. "I'm hurt," she said.

Despite beefed up security precautions and the presence of the media, Whealon said, life is actually continuing pretty much as normal in Shawano.

Whealon said he did not want to down play the seriousness of the situation, but for most people the only real difference, he said, is a heightened sense of awareness.

He said it was one of the advantages of a town this size that people tend to notice things.

Mayor Lorna Marquardt said she has been advised by legal counsel not to comment because of the ongoing investigation.

"I will honor that request but I am looking forward to the day when I can discuss this with the public," Marquardt said.

In the meantime, she offered the citizens of Shawano a quote from James Thurber: "Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness," she said.

Also, Marquardt added, "I'd like to ask the community to remain vigilant, but calm and to remember the power of prayer."

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