Wisconsin news in Review 2019

Wisconsin saw its share of remarkable news stories in 2019. A Latino man in Milwaukee found himself the victim of an apparently unprovoked acid attack. The head of the state’s National Guard was forced out over the Guard’s handling of a string of sexual assault and harassment complaints. And partisan conflict remained the status quo at the Statehouse. But no story gripped the state like that of Jayme Closs, the teen who escaped a kidnapper after 88 days in captivity. JAYME CLOSS RETURNS, KIDNAPPER SENTENCED TO LIFE Jayme Closs was 13 when she was kidnapped from her home outside Barron in western Wisconsin on Oct. 15, 2018. Her parents, James and Denise Closs, were fatally shot. Jayme’s disappearance was a mystery until the following January, when she escaped from a rural cabin in northwestern Wisconsin. Her kidnapper, Jake Patterson, 21, confessed to the crimes, saying he had seen the girl getting on a school bus and decided “she was the girl he was going to take.” The judge called Patterson the “embodiment of evil” before sentencing him to life in prison. Jayme did not appear at Patterson’s sentencing but said in a statement, “He thought that he could own me but he was wrong. I was smarter.” 

Latino Man Attacked With Acid In Milwaukee 

On Nov. 1, Mahud Villalaz, a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Peru, said a man approached him near a restaurant and confronted him for parking too close to a bus stop. Prosecutors say the man, Clifton Blackwell, then asked Villalaz “Why did you invade my country?” before eventually splashing acid on Villalaz’s face. Prosecutors charged Blackwell, who is white, with a hate crime.

National Guard 

Commander Forced Out

A scathing federal report released in December found the Wisconsin National Guard defied federal law, regulations and policies for years over the handling of soldiers’ sexual assault and harassment complaints. Hours before the report was released, the commander of the Wisconsin National Guard, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, agreed to resign at Gov. Tony Evers’ request. Dunbar was appointed in 2007 and was the nation’s longest-serving state National Guard commander. His resignation takes effect Dec. 31.

Democratic Governor, Gop Leaders Spar

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican leaders of the Legislature continued their acrimonious relationship. Even before Evers took office, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed lame-duck measures aimed at limiting the Democrat’s powers. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Legislature tried — and failed — to override a governor’s veto, with no Democrats joining Republicans. When Evers called a special session on gun control, Republicans convened and then ended the session seconds later. The Senate rejected Evers’ pick to run the agriculture department, and the friction extended to whether to call the state Capitol evergreen a Christmas tree, with Evers declaring it a “holiday tree” and Assembly Republicans voting to call it a Christmas tree.

Heading into the 2020 elections, a judge’s ruling would purge more than 200,000 voter registrations in battleground Wisconsin. The judge sided with a conservative law firm. Separately, Wisconsin’s role as a key state in the presidential election — Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016 — was highlighted by Democratic leaders announcing that Milwaukee would host the party’s 2020 national convention.

Two veteran Republican congressmen from Wisconsin announced their departures. Rep. Sean Duffy, a former MTV reality show star elected to Congress in 2010, resigned in September just before his wife gave birth to their ninth child, who has a heart defect and Down syndrome. And Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner announced he was retiring from Congress after first being elected in 1978.

Dairy Farm Decline Continues

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said during a stop in Wisconsin in October that he doesn’t know if the family dairy farm can survive. Perdue said it’s getting harder for farmers to get by on milking smaller herds and “in America, the big get bigger and the small get out.” Wisconsin dairy farmers have struggled with declining milk prices and President Donald Trump’s trade wars. The state that touts itself as America’s Dairyland lost 551 dairy farms in 2019 after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017.

School Shooting Scares

Two officer-involved shootings happened at Wisconsin schools on back-to-back days in early December. In suburban Milwaukee, a student who allegedly pointed a pellet gun at another student’s head at Waukesha South High School was shot and wounded by a Waukesha police officer after police say the teen pointed the gun at officers. The next day, a school resource officer shot and wounded a 16-year-old boy at Oshkosh West High School after prosecutors say the boy attacked the officer with a barbecue fork.

School Guard Fired Over Slur, Then 


A Wisconsin school district in October fired — and then rehired — a black security guard who had repeated a racial slur while telling a student not to use it. Students at Madison West High School staged a walkout in support of Marlon Anderson after his firing.

Cyberattack Expert Sentenced For 


In Milwaukee, a British cybersecurity expert was spared from prison in July by a federal judge after he admitted writing and selling malware. Marcus Hutchins was hailed as a hero for his role in stopping a worldwide computer virus in 2017. The judge noted that Hutchins had accepted responsibility for his past actions and said the misconduct was outweighed by his help in stopping the “WannaCry” virus.

Missouri Man Charged In Deaths Of Missing Wisconsin Brothers

Two brothers from Shawano County, Wisconsin, went missing in July when they went to a Missouri farm to collect a $250,000 debt. The remains of 24-year-old Justin Diemel were found in a livestock trailer in Nebraska while remains recovered from a Missouri farm were identified as those of 35-year-old Nicholas Diemel. A Braymer, Missouri, man is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the brothers’ deaths.

Six Die In House Fire

Six people, including four children, died in a house fire in the small northern Wisconsin town of Pickerel in June. Authorities used DNA samples to confirm the identities of the victims. The four children ranged in age from 11 months to 7 years old. The state Division of Criminal Investigation was investigating the fire, but authorities don’t suspect foul play.

Death Of Bart Starr; Badgers Rose Bowl Bound

Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, who’s name is synonymous with the powerful Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, died May 5 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was 85. Starr had suffered two strokes and a heart attack in 2014. Starr led the Packers to six division titles, five NFL championships and wins in the first two Super Bowls. Starr was a graceful passer, but he probably was best known for the sneak that won the “Ice Bowl” in 1967.

Wisconsin is headed back to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 against Oregon. The Badgers lost the Big Ten title game to Ohio State and are headed to Pasadena for their fourth Rose Bowl in 10 years. Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus is back after he was acquitted by a jury of charges he sexually assaulted two women in 2018. Cephus was reinstated by school officials after being suspended from the Badgers football team and expelled from the university.