EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – An Eau Claire County Judge is ordering Shane Helmbrecht to return to Wisconsin. Helmbrecht is accused of killing an Eau Claire woman 7 years ago. Friday, he walked away from a group home in Tomah. Monday, He was found in New Mexico. The question is how is a man charged with homicide able to go free?
Helmbrecht is accused of shooting and killing his neighbor, Jen Ward, in Eau Claire in 2016. Jen Ward’s sister, Jamie Kirchoff, says, “She was the laughter at the party. She was the friend that you needed when you needed it but didn’t know that you needed it.”
Helmbrecht was found incompetent to stand trial and was ordered to live in a Mental Health Facility. On Monday, a Green Alert, which is issued for missing veterans, was sent out after he hadn’t been seen for a few days from a Tomah group home. Helmbrecht was found safe Monday night by police near the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Eau Claire County Sheriff Dave Riewestahl told us New Mexico Police reached out to his department, but they informed police there they have no legal grounds to hold him. (At the time this article was posted) Authorities do not know where he is.
We spoke with Tomah Police Chief Scott Holum and Jen Ward’s sister (Kirchoff) both sharing their thoughts surrounding this situation. Holum says, “Our primary goal is public safety and the safety of our citizenry. And when you have somebody in your community that is accused of first-degree intentional homicide and, you know, they’re walking around freely in public. Yeah, that’s concerning.”
Kirchoff added, “There really are no true words as to why someone who is a murderer has been in the court system and can just walk away because there is no current or new criminal charges.”
Late Tuesday, the Eau Claire County District Attorney filed a motion asking a judge to require Helmbrecht to return to Wisconsin. Judge Sarah Harless gave Helmbrecht 48 hours to return to the house in Tomah. He also cannot contact any of the victim’s family members and cannot be in possession of any dangerous weapons.
Now there are still a lot of questions surrounding the situation and why Helmbrecht was able to leave the facility he was staying at. It’s something we will continue to look into and will update you all as we learn more.