In my last blog, I told you about the case of Brett Seacat. Seacat, a former sheriff’s deputy, murdered his wife and tried to cover his tracks by setting fire to his house. This week, the blog covers the case of Eric Hainstock. Hainstock, a high school freshman, took two guns to school in September 2006. He shot the school principal, John Klang, who later died.
Born in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, in 1991, Eric Hainstock’s childhood left much to be desired. His parents divorced when Eric was two. At age nine, the courts terminated his mother’s parental rights when she failed to make required child support payments.
Eric’s formative years were turbulent. Shawn Hainstock, Eric’s father, suffered from depression and anger issues. According to school, social services, and mental health records, he forced Eric to work “like a slave” around the house. Eric himself began having behavior issues, and doctors prescribed Ritalin for ADHD. But Shawn stopped the Ritalin, saying he “didn’t want to spend the money.”
Eric’s father also meted out strict discipline, his “discipline” being close to abuse. Sometimes, he crossed the line. In September 2001, after reports of abuse, a court sent Eric to live with his paternal grandmother. His behavior and grades improved in a nurturing environment. And his grandmother put him back on Ritalin.
But Shawn Hainstock regained custody of Eric in April 2002.
Eric Hainstock’s Problems at School
It shouldn’t be a surprise to find Eric did poorly in school. He claimed his father restricted him to showering once a week and bought him only old, ill-fitting clothes. He went hungry often because his father refused to pay the 30-40 cents for reduced-price lunches. And Shawn took Eric off Ritalin, saying he “didn’t want to spend the money.”
In his father’s home again, Eric transferred to Weston Schools, a K-12 facility in Cazenovia, Wisconsin, for sixth grade. He received multiple detentions. School officials removed him from classrooms for behavior issues an average of twice a week. He ended up repeating the sixth grade.
By Eric’s account, life at Weston Schools was “hell.” He identified as bisexual, enduring persistent name-calling and physical bullying because of it. One student told a newspaper that students picked on Eric more than anyone else in the school. Others point out that Eric himself often exhibited bullying and other inappropriate behaviors.
Eric Hainstock Brings Guns to School
In the fall of 2006, at age 15, Eric started his first year at Weston High School. On September 14, he got into an argument with another student and threw a stapler at a teacher. Police charged him with second-degree recklessly endangering safety, disorderly conduct, and criminal damage. A few days later, he got into a fight with his stepmother.
On September 29, Eric brought two guns to school taken from his father’s locked gun cabinet. One was a 20-gauge shotgun, the other a .22 caliber revolver. At 8:00 a.m., he entered the school’s main hall and aimed the shotgun at a social studies teacher. A custodian, Dave Thompson, wrested the gun away from him.
At this point, the principal, John Klang, arrived at the scene of the disturbance and confronted Hainstock. Hainstock snatched the pistol from his jacket and fired several shots, wounding Klang. Klang still wrestled Hainstock to the ground and swept the gun away.
Klang underwent surgery at Reedsburg Area Medical Center before being flown to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, about 50 miles away. He died minutes before 3:00 p.m.
Eric Hainstock went on trial in 2007. The defense claimed he only intended to force Klang to listen to his complaints about bullying. The jury didn’t buy it. On August 2, it found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison. Today he resides at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He will be eligible for parole in 2037 when he is 46.
Eric allowed the Madison newspaper Isthmus to share his story publicly.
The Carnegie Hero Fund posthumously awarded Klang the Carnegie Medal for heroism.
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