LA CROSSE, Wis. — Police revealed little information Sunday as the investigation continued into the killings of Paul Petras and his son, A.J. Petras, who were found shot to death Saturday at May’s Photo, their downtown camera shop.
Fourth Street remained closed until Sunday evening as state and local investigators continued to comb for evidence.
According to police, Paul Petras, 56, and A.J. Petras, 19, were found shot to death inside the store at 425 Main St. shortly after 5 p.m. They said the shooting likely occurred sometime after the store closed at 2 p.m.
Steve Rose, owner of Rose Jewelers next door to May’s, said Sunday that his son was in the photo store between 1 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday to buy a soda. A.J. waited on him, and everything was OK at the time, but he had cause to wonder later.
“We closed at 3,” Rose said. “My son left at 3:05 and I left at 3:15. My son said he remarked to himself that it was peculiar that Paul’s car was still there. Usually, they were out at 2 — boom.”
The slayings brought the city’s intentional homicide total to four this year, making it the bloodiest in two decades, according to Tribune records.
La Crosse police said
they would release more information as it becomes available, likely not until this afternoon. Meanwhile they are asking for help from anyone who was in the area between 1:30 and 5:15 p.m. and saw anything suspicious. They’re also seeking to interview anyone in a May’s photography class that ended about 2 p.m.
“It’s absolutely bizarre, very tragic,” said Rose, who had to cajole police into letting him go beyond the yellow crime scene tape into his store Sunday.
Asked whether he is concerned about safety at his own business, Rose said, “It’s one of those things. Stuff happens. You don’t get hard to it ... but I’m not going to crawl up in a cocoon. You’ve got to be smart, but we can’t let the criminal element take over.”
La Crosse County has not seen so many slayings in a single year since 1992, when five people were killed in three separate incidents, including a triple homicide, according to Tribune files.
Five killings were recorded in 1985, including the shooting of three people in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Onalaska, Wis., by Bryan Stanley, later found not guilty by reason of mental disease and committed to a state hospital, where he remains today.
The victims in that shooting included Ferdinand Roth Sr., whose nephew was Paul Petras.
The Petras shootings come just six months after two unrelated killings ended a nearly three-year stretch without a deliberate homicide in the city of La Crosse.
On March 6, Kristen Rodgers, 35, was found dead in a North Side alley. Izelia Golatt, who prosecutors say strangled her, is scheduled to stand trial next week on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide.
Later that month, 20-year-old Sara Hougom died after being shot in her Division Street apartment. Pao Choua Vue and his nephew Kong Vue, pleaded guilty this summer to first-degree reckless homicide in her death, which they described as a burglary gone wrong.
Both face up to 40 years in prison when they are sentenced in November.