RACINE — The suspect who law enforcement officials say shot and killed Racine Police Officer John Hetland last week was arrested Thursday, one day after Hetland’s funeral.
The alleged perpetrator was captured in Milwaukee and was taken to jail wearing Hetland’s handcuffs. The identity of the suspect was not released during a press conference Thursday evening at the Racine Police Department, 730 Center St.
Press conference on the arrest of a suspect in the shooting death of Racine Police Officer John Hetland.
Hetland, a 24-year Racine Police Department veteran, was shot and killed the night of June 17 at Teezers Bar & Grill, 1936 Lathrop Ave., while trying to stop an armed robbery.
“We are pleased to announce we have caught that killer,” said Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, during the press conference. “This coward is in our custody.”
Alongside Schmaling at the joint press conference were Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth and Racine Police Chief Art Howell. The officials spoke from a podium next to the police squad memorializing Hetland, which has been covered in notes and flowers in the days following Hetland’s slaying.
“Hopefully the family tonight will find some comfort,” Schmaling said. “We have worked night and day to see closure.”
Howell said his officers “had to witness something that was unbearable,” with the death of their colleague, and asked that everyone at the Racine Police Department be acknowledged for the work they do and the sacrifices they make.
“Obviously I’m pleased with the news that broke tonight, but I’m not happy because it should have never happened,” Howell said.
The chief said he cannot thank the community enough for its support as well as the reward money that was put up to help entice tips in the case.
“In the days, weeks, months and years ahead, officer Hetland’s family is going to need the community’s continued support,” Howell said. “We are grateful for the food. We are grateful for the reward money offered. We are grateful for the fellowship, but there’s a hole in our heart that cannot be healed by money. The only way that we can honor John Hetland is to emulate John Hetland.”
Thousands of hours
Beth said command staff and investigators worked 14 to 16 hour days on this case, and that thousands of hours worth of work have already gone into the investigation. More than 17 law enforcement agencies from Wisconsin and Illinois have contributed to the investigation.
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“This is not done,” Beth said. “The investigation is intensifying right now. We have a person in custody but the evidence that we need to put that finishing nails in his coffin, that’s what we still have to do.”
Beth said the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office, which has taken the lead in the investigation, expects to release more information about the suspect sometime Friday.
Racine Mayor Cory Mason said at the conference that the city is grieving. But the news will allow the city to “breathe a sigh of relief.”
Teezers Bar & Grill was nearly silent during the 15-minute broadcast of the press conference.
“When they said they used Johnny Hetland’s handcuffs to bring him into custody, the crowd just screamed,” said Karla Seidenspinner, who has worked at the bar for 17 years.
“Thank God,” said Seidenspinner.
She was at the bar on June 17, but she left about 20 minutes before the robbery during which Hetland was shot and killed.
“(Hetland) had only been in there 10 minutes and the whole ordeal took 44 seconds,” Seidenspinner said.
Hetland jumped over the bar and tackled the suspect, Seidenspinner said. But the suspect was too quick and shot him before getting away with money.
“We have been on edge for a week and a half,” said Seidenspinner, who was in Hetland’s 1988 graduating class at Park High School.
“We can breathe a little easier now. He is caught.”
Although he was off duty at the time of the shooting, Hetland’s death is considered a line-of-duty fatality because he was performing actions consistent with his police duties. Hetland, who was laid to rest on Wednesday, was the first Racine Police officer killed in the line of duty in more than four decades.
Funeral procession for Officer Hetland passes through Racine
Racine Police Officer John Hetland died while trying to stop an armed robbery on June 17. His procession leading to his final resting place was held on June 26.
One more pass by the station
A show of support
Patriotism and honor
Paying their respects
“The only way that we can honor John Hetland is to emulate John Hetland.” Art Howell, Racine police chief
Stephanie Jones contributed to this report.
"The only way that we can honor John Hetland is to emulate John Hetland."
Art Howell, Racine police chief