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CRANDON, Wis. -- The home where six young people died when a jealous off-duty sheriff's deputy went on a shooting rampage eight months ago has been likened to an infection in this small northern Wisconsin city.
The cure comes this weekend.
"The house has got to go," said Bill Farr, pastor of Praise Chapel Community Church and chairman of the committee that bought the property near downtown to convert it to a memorial.
"It has no symbol of hope," he said. "It has no symbol of peace. It is only a symbol of tragedy."
A somber crowd of a few hundred people gathered Friday night at a vigil outside the white, two-story home due to be torn down Saturday. Many wore maroon T-shirts that said "Crandon Angels, rest in our hearts," and had the victims' names printed on the back.
Baskets of flowers hung from the front porch. A banner across the front window showed birds being released from the hands of a Biblical figure and flying toward the sun, with a message reading, "One day we who are bound for heaven shall all be together again."
A thunderstorm with bolts of lightning and pouring rain moved in just before the vigil was to start, temporarily delaying it.
Fred Ackley, a member of the Mole Lake Chippewa band, took part in a ceremonial drum song and told the crowd that the property was a sacred area. The ceremony will help make it become pure again once the house is removed, he said.
"The rain came and it tells me the Great Spirit is blessing us," he said. "It's a way of showing us we are doing the right thing."
Many wiped away tears as 19-year-old Lucy Roberts sang Sarah McLaughlin's "Angel," with its refrain of, "You're in the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort here."
Roberts said she knew all the victims.
The crowd held lit candles as Farr ended the vigil, saying the house represented a "black cloud of darkness and despair," but the memorial will honor the victims and make it a place of peace, love and healing.
Jennifer Blank, mother of victim Jordanne Murray, said she would be there for the demolition, calling the house a constant reminder of something horrible.
Lee Smith, the mother of victim Aaron Smith, said she has anxiously waited for the house to be removed. The location is near the Post Office, so she couldn't always avoid it.
"I don't come by here unless I have to," she said.
"We will always remember what happened here, but once the house is gone we can move forward a little bit. We are never going to forget."
A backhoe and a logging truck with big claws to lift the wreckage were already parked behind the home.
Workers who are volunteering their time and equipment planned to rip the home down Saturday and haul it away. The remains are to be buried in an undisclosed landfill in another state to make sure no one ever obtains a piece.
"I have related it like an infection," Farr said, "and until you clean out that infection, you can't heal. I see that in the families. They look at the house. They remember their kids. But on the other hand, they also remember they were killed there so it is a very difficult edifice to look at and have there."
In this close-knit town of 2,000 people where logging and recreation are key industries, the home is an eyesore for many.
Early the morning of Oct. 7, Tyler Peterson went to the house where Murray lived and accused her of dating someone else. Murray demanded Peterson leave, and he did -- only to return with an AR-15 assault rifle he was issued as a member of the Forest County Sheriff's SWAT team.
Peterson, 20, broke down the door and opened fire on the young people attending Murray's party, methodically gunning them down.
He killed Murray, 18; Bradley Schultz, 20; Lindsey Stahl, 14; Aaron Smith, 20; Lianna Thomas, 18; and Katrina McCorkle, 18. Charlie Neitzel, 21, shot three times during the rampage, played dead and lived.
Peterson, also a part-time Crandon police officer, ran out of the home, shot at an arriving police squad car and then fled in his pickup truck.
Hours later, Peterson shot himself three times in the head near a friend's home north of Crandon after police efforts to get him to surrender failed.
A committee headed by Farr formed shortly after the shootings and raised $71,000 to buy the property from Murray's father.
The investigation of the shootings caused much damage inside the house, which had been remodeled into a duplex where Murray and her father lived, the pastor said.
Only two victims' relatives have wanted to go inside, he said.
One family that did felt relief, Farr said. "They felt that they were finally able to say goodbye."
The plan has always been to demolish the home -- initially by burning it down. It just took longer to do than originally hoped, Farr said.
"We plan to replace it with something more positive, something more beautiful, something more edifying," he said.
The idea is a six-sided gazebo, with each wall dedicated to one of the victims and a water fountain in the middle, said Sue Hill, treasurer of the Fountain of Youth Memorial Fund. The hope is to finish construction by the one-year anniversary of the shootings.
"The families have worked very, very hard to get to this point," Hill said.